We’ve all been in this situation: it’s a busy day, we’ve been sitting in front of the computer screen for a few hours, and we’re beginning to get restless. Eventually, all that pent up energy starts being released, little by little—we begin to move around in our chair, perhaps tapping our fingers, or wiggling our toes. Before we know it, we are bouncing our legs up and down, and it may even be hours more before we notice what’s happening.
This is a well-known occurrence, more commonly known as fidgeting. While usually known as a nervous habit or a nuisance to the average worker, a new study done by the University of Missouri has found that fidgeting actually has a significant benefit to health—it can prevent the development of arterial disease.
Image Source: Adriana Lopetrone
Previous research indicates that being seated for long periods of time has negative effects, notably a decreased amount of blood flow to the legs. This lack of circulation can contribute to the development of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease (disease of the arteries in the heart). According to the results of this new study, leg fidgeting can increase blood flow, and, surprisingly, help prevent this disease from developing. Jaume Padilla, Ph.D., the lead author of the study, provided his opinion on the importance of this finding. “Many of us sit for hours at a time, whether it’s binge watching our favorite TV show or working at a computer.”
Padilla and his team had 11 healthy young men and women participate in this experiment. They sat in one spot for three hours, keeping one leg still while fidgeting the other (they tapped their foot about 250 times a minute for one minute, then rested for four minutes before repeating). Afterwards, the researchers measured blood flow in the popliteal, an artery in the lower leg. As expected, they found that the moving leg saw an increase in blood flow, while the still one conversely saw a decrease in blood flow. Increasing blood flow raises shear stress, or the friction between blood in an artery and its vessel wall. Past findings have shown that higher shear stress contributes to better vascular health.
Image Source: Science Photo Library
Through this study, which was published in the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology, the researchers hope to give people options to stay healthy. “If you’re stuck in a situation in which walking just isn’t an option, fidgeting can be a good alternative. Any movement is better than no movement,” says Padilla. He and his colleagues hope to demonstrate that although fidgeting cannot replace exercise, it can definitely prove beneficial in many situations.
Feature Image Source: Hands Fidgeting From Boredom by Mark Spearman