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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2013 May;114(9):1125-31. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00765.2012. Epub 2013 Feb 14.

Obesity does not impair walking economy across a range of speeds and grades.

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  • 1Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colorado 80523-1582, USA. ray.browning@colostate.edu

Abstract

Despite the popularity of walking as a form of physical activity for obese individuals, relatively little is known about how obesity affects the metabolic rate, economy, and underlying mechanical energetics of walking across a range of speeds and grades. The purpose of this study was to quantify metabolic rate, stride kinematics, and external mechanical work during level and gradient walking in obese and nonobese adults. Thirty-two obese [18 women, mass = 102.1 (15.6) kg, BMI = 33.9 (3.6) kg/m(2); mean (SD)] and 19 nonobese [10 women, mass = 64.4 (10.6) kg, BMI = 21.6 (2.0) kg/m(2)] volunteers participated in this study. We measured oxygen consumption, ground reaction forces, and lower extremity kinematics while subjects walked on a dual-belt force-measuring treadmill at 11 speeds/grades (0.50-1.75 m/s, -3° to +9°). We calculated metabolic rate, stride kinematics, and external work. Net metabolic rate (Ė net/kg, W/kg) increased with speed or grade across all individuals. Surprisingly and in contrast with previous studies, Ė net/kg was 0-6% less in obese compared with nonobese adults (P = 0.013). External work, although a primary determinant of Ė net/kg, was not affected by obesity across the range of speeds/grades used in this study. We also developed new prediction equations to estimate oxygen consumption and Ė net/kg and found that Ė net/kg was positively related to relative leg mass and step width and negatively related to double support duration. These results suggest that obesity does not impair walking economy across a range of walking speeds and grades.

KEYWORDS:

biomechanics; economy; energy expenditure; metabolic rate; physical activity

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