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The Chewing-Gum Workout Plan

For too long, we have asked one another, typically as an insult, “Can you chew gum and walk at the same time?” A better question might be, “Why aren’t you chewing gum and walking right now?”

That’s the apparent takeaway of a study that was presented this week at the European Congress on Obesity, in Vienna, Austria, and which appears in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. The researchers, led by the sports scientist Yuka Hamada, of Waseda University, in Japan, found that people who chew gum while walking expend more energy than non-chewing walkers. Older men, in particular, walk faster and farther while chewing gum.

It may surprise no one that there is a minor literature on the physiological (never mind the dental) effects of gum-chewing. A 1999 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, “The Energy Expended in Gum Chewing,” found that seated subjects used nineteen per cent more energy when they were given calorie-free gum to chew. (They were asked to chew at a rate of a hundred times per minute, keeping pace with a metronome.) That’s about the same increase that cows see while chewing and nearly twice the benefit of merely standing rather than sitting. The authors noted that, if you did nothing but chew gum all day for a year, you could lose eleven pounds. “Its potential effect on energy balance should not be discounted,” they wrote.

Several studies have found that chewing gum stimulates the circulation; chewing very hard gum can raise the subject’s heart rate by as much as eleven beats per minute. Chewing gum may also be a good way of coping with stress: some (although not all) studies have found that it decreases the amount of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, in the blood. (In any case, it beats chewing on sticks, as rodents do when they’re stressed out.) People who have had abdominal surgery recover their bowel function more quickly if they chew gum. Perhaps most widely useful is the finding, in a 2015 study in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, that chewing gum can be an effective way of ridding yourself of an annoying earworm. For the study, volunteers were made to listen to bits of catchy songs; the subjects who chewed gum were less likely to be haunted by the music—evidently, activating the muscles used in speech interferes with the brain’s ability to form verbal

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