Coronavirus Chronicles — Exercise Deprivation and Baby Steps

In this virus-saturated environment, a major theme of public discussion is the harm being done to children who are unable to get enough exercise. It is a serious problem that is not going away any time soon.

Let’s mention Alasdair Wilkins, who published “I lost 100 pounds in a year. My ‘weight loss secret’ is really dumb.” His secret? He walked an uphill treadmill for an hour each day while watching movies.

How is this relevant? The actual numbers are slippery, but it seems safe to say that treadmills are present in only a very small percentage of American homes. They are costly; they consume a lot of valuable indoor real estate; they are unsuitable and dangerous for children. So, a grownup achieved a weight loss goal using that tool. What does that have to do with children who are cooped up inside?

As unrelated as the story might seem, the kernel of a good idea can be found anywhere. For instance, when so many families are restricted to home for excruciatingly long periods, there is a temptation to let kids (and ourselves) consume unlimited hours of entertainment. And yet we are constantly told that screen time is one of the most heinous childhood obesity villains. Could there be a way to slightly reduce the toxicity of screen time?

How many soup cans are in the cabinet?

What if a family picked a day when a special condition would be in effect? What if, on Saturday, the first half-hour of TV anyone watched, would be done with soup cans in hand, to circulate some blood, build some muscle, and burn off some calories? How many calories? It doesn’t matter. The concept is “baby steps,” just doing a little something that is better than nothing and (who knows?) might lead to great accomplishments.

It doesn’t matter if the person stays seated, as long as they spend the 30 minutes in movement. Even one soup can in one hand, up and down. It’s a teeny, tiny baby step, and worth trying. It could branch out in many directions. A decision might be made to do this three days a week, instead of just one. Or every day. Or twice a day. The lesson is, combining even this modest amount of activity with the privilege of screen time can lead to better things.

When people discover that an activity makes them feel better in some way, they often (and not surprisingly) do more of it. Any kid can look in a mirror and see the development of a shapely bicep, and become inspired. Any kid (or adult) can search YouTube for soup can workout and discover an amazing number of activities utilizing these small weights that most people have around the house.

The point is, to model a starting place, consider a doable amount of activity combined with the reward of watching something interesting. When interviewed, Alasdair Wilkins said a number of noteworthy things, such as…

The very small initial movement, without adding any larger expectations, allowed me to start going to the gym every day and to do a little bit more each time. I was thinking about my weight loss on a very small scale: I just wanted to feel better…

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How Did Alasdair Wilkins Lose 100 lbs in a Year?,”, 10/5/15
Image by Rukia13/CC BY-ND 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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