Sitting down all day doesn't just make it more likely that you'll gain weight. It makes it more likely that you'll gain weight on your butt, specifically.
The body produces fat when more calories go in than out. But it also produces fat when that area of the body is stretched for long periods of time, according to a study recently published in the "American Journal of Physiology -- Cell Physiology," and reported by the Daily Mail. When a body part consistently bears a big load, it seems it builds its own cushion.
In the past, MRI images had shown that the fat cells of paralyzed patients expanded so much that they invaded some of the body's biggest muscles. So a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University, led by Amit Gefen, attached fat cells to an elastic layer, so that they could be stretched, in a simulation of the rear end of a sitting or reclining person.
After two weeks, cells that both had and hadn't been stretched developed liquid droplets of fat. But the ones that had been stretched developed much bigger droplets, and significantly more of them. When all the cells had reached maturity, the stretched ones had produced 50 percent more fat.
"Obesity is more than just an imbalance of calories. Cells themselves are also responsive to their mechanical environment," says Gefen. "Fat cells produce more triglycerides [the fatty form of our unused calories], and at a faster rate, when exposed to static stretching."
This may be good news for those who like big butts and cannot lie, including the 7,034 Americans who cosmetically enhanced their behinds in 2010, either with implants, lifts or fat injections, taken from other parts of the body, according to The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. That's a 41 percent increase from the year before.
But it's a scary finding for many others, which compounds the general concern that the sedentary lifestyle of many modern day workers in the West is upping rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. More and more workplaces are trying to inventively get employees off their butts during the workday, reports The New York Times. One financial staffing firm in Minneapolis introduced walking meetings and treadmill desks. Other companies encourage workers to get their blood flowing during 10-minute exercise breaks.
Even workers who eat healthfully and exercise regularly are at risk of an beefed-up butt, simply from sitting on it for many hours a day.
The new research doesn't just explain the expanding backsides of many office laborers. It may hold the secret to shrinking those backsides too. If your fat cells respond to their mechanical environment, it means they can be externally manipulated into disappearing, Geffen has shown.
There is a point when a mechanical load can actual disintegrate your fat cells. We've been dreaming of vibrating our fat off since the 1950s, and soon the dream may come true. Imagine that: late-night infomercials that feature whirring fat-busting machines, which actually work.
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