Keep on fidgeting, it's good for your heart

Though fidgeting has long been deemed a bad habit, a new study is challenging that notion.

Researchers from the University of Missouri have found that fidgeting while sitting can actually boost one’s cardiovascular health. It can protect arteries in the legs from losing blood flow and potentially prevent arterial disease.

The study, published in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology, was led by Jaume Padilla, PhD, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at MU. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

Padilla and his team compared leg vascular function in 11 healthy women and men before and after three hours of sitting. While participants were sitting, they were asked to fidget one of their legs intermittently by tapping one foot for one minute and then resting it for four minutes. The other leg remained still throughout.

Results showed that on average, participants moved their feet 250 times per minute. After measuring the blood flow of the popliteal, an artery in the lower leg, they found that the fidgeting leg had increased blood flow compared to the stationary one.

“Many of us sit for hours at a time, whether it’s binge watching our favorite TV show or working at a computer,” Padilla said in a statement. “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.”

In a real world scenario, the researchers recommend fidgeting both legs to maximize beneficial cardiovascular effects, though it’s not a substitute for walking and exercise.

“You should attempt to break up sitting time as much as possible by standing or walking,” Padilla said. “But 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.”