Fidget While You Work? | Almanac.com

Fidget While You Work?

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Is fidgeting your legs or body harmful or helpful to health? 

We’ve all sat next to that guy whose constant knee-pumping rattles the floor and distracts everyone in the vicinity from their work. Or, there is the meeting participant who drums her fingers on the table, even when others attempt to speak. I myself have been guilty of neck-rolling during conversations, enjoying the pleasant sensations of relief that come from the creaking and crackling.

Some of us fidget with gadgets, twirling keychains, clicking ball-point pens, snapping rubber bands.

Most of us learned, or tried to learn, from repeated admonitions early on to sit still and pay attention. Psychologists taught that fidgeting was a sign of nervousness, boredom, rudeness, or some sort of “disorder.”

Benefits of Fidgeting

Yet over the past decade, studies have documented real benefits of fidgeting.

  • In the early 2000s, obesity specialists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, published intriguing research suggesting that common fidgeting could help weight loss and help keep off the pounds.
  • British researchers found that children allowed to fidget in the classroom actually think, learn, solve problems, and remember better than when they sit still. Other researchers have extended those findings to adults.
  • A couple of years ago, news headlines began proclaiming that “sitting is the new smoking,” that our average of 10 hours a day sitting at work, on digital devices, and watching TV was harming our health. This brought on a new generation of standing and walking workstations, and wearable devices that reminded us to get up and move every so often.
  • And now a new study suggests that leg tapping could help counteract the arterial disease that may occur over time from long spells of daily sitting. Over the course of three hours, healthy volunteers tapped one foot for a minute (about 250 taps), then rested it for four minutes, while keeping the other leg still. Researchers found a significant increase in blood flow in the tapping leg, while arterial flow in the stationary leg was reduced.

It seems that sitting for long periods distresses our bodies and minds. We evolved to move.

So, to help keep off the pounds, focus, learn and remember better, help prevent diabetes and some cancers, improve blood flow, what’s stopping medical and psychological professionals from prescribing a fidgeting habit?

Well, the folks who get distracted and annoyed by the someone’s repetitive fidgeting. Until workplace and classroom (and, let’s face it, household) cultures shift considerably, I suspect we’ll keep reminding our fidgety kids to sit still and sending reproving glances or words to the fidgeters in our midst.

Though here’s one North Carolina math teacher who seems to have harnessed the positive power of fidgeting in her classroom.

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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