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Fidget or Toe Tapping?

By Jeanne Hambleton

Are you a fidgeter making small movements with hands and tapping your feet? If so, researchers recommend us to fidget and use leg movements when sitting for some time and when walking is not an option.

In fact toe tapping and fidgeting is the ‘in’ thing to be doing while you are sat down. It appears fidgeting can lead to better health.

On a more serious note toe-tapping and fidgeting lead to better health in your body by preventing arterial dysfunction due to sitting. Dancing around your kitchen while doing your chores is also good exercise and helps the circulation.

The University of Missouri-Columbia USA claim earlier research has shown that sitting for a long time at a computer or during a long airline flight reduces blood flow to the legs. This may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease. To help combat that researchers from the University of Missouri have found that fidgeting while sitting, can protect the arteries in legs and potentially help prevent arterial disease.

“Many of us sit for hours at a time, whether it is binge watching our favourite TV show or working at a computer,” said Jaume Padilla, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University and lead author of the study and the research team.

“We wanted to know whether a small amount of leg fidgeting could prevent a decline in leg vascular function caused by prolonged sitting. While we expected fidgeting to increase blood flow to the lower limbs, we were quite surprised to find this would be sufficient to prevent a decline in arterial function,” said Jaume Padilla.

During a study, researchers compared the leg vascular function of 11 healthy young men and women before and after three hours of sitting. While sitting, the participants were asked to fidget one leg intermittently, tapping one foot for one minute and then resting it for four minutes, while the other leg remained still throughout.

On average, the participants moved their feet 250 times per minute. The researchers then measured the blood flow of the popliteal — an artery in the lower leg — and found that the fidgeting leg had a significant increase in blood flow, as expected, while the stationary leg experienced a reduction in blood flow.

Research revealed that increased blood flow and its associated shear stress — the friction of the flowing blood on the artery wall — is an important stimulus for vascular health. At that time fidgeting’s protective role had not been established.

While only one leg was exposed to fidgeting during the experiment, in a real-world scenario the researchers recommend tapping both legs to maximize the beneficial effects. But the researchers caution that fidgeting is not a substitute for walking and exercise, which produces more overall cardiovascular benefits.

“You should attempt to break up sitting time as much as possible by standing or walking,” Jaune Padilla said. “But if you are stuck in a situation in which walking is just not an option, fidgeting can be a good alternative. Any movement is better than no movement.”

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