Thursday, September 16

What is ‘fidgeting’: the curious advantages of being restless


Some people are restless by nature. They cannot stop moving their legs or playing with any object they have within reach: pens, rings, their own hair, clothes, etc. In our language, this activity lacks a specific name; in English it’s called fidgeting.

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These movements seem to have no use, other than expressing a restless character or alleviating –in certain people– situations of tension, nervousness, boredom, or frustration. It is also common in those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

However, various investigations in recent years have shown that the fidgeting offers a series of amazing benefits, both on a psychological and physical level. It is convenient to pay attention to this phenomenon to try to get the most out of it.

What does the mind do when the body moves

At a psychological level, these movements of the body would be associated with a better information retention. In a experiment, Canadian scientists asked a group of people to watch the video of a 40-minute class.

As time went by, what was expected happened: the attention of the participants decreased and the fidgeting. Furthermore, the relationship between this activity and information retention was “significant,” according to the researchers.

This led them to conclude that “the fidgeting exerts a unique contribution to the retention of the material “of the class. This would also be related to another curious fact: drawing doodles helps to remember better what is heard during a conference or telephone conversation.

That was the result of a proof held more than ten years ago in the UK. According works above, people with a greater tendency to fidgeting they are also more prone to distraction and rambling, which is often the cause of poorer academic and work performance.

Restless movements would therefore be a kind of antidote to this dispersion: a physical stimulus for the mind to remember that you should focus on what you are doing, so that you can put in the effort and energy required for that task.

Physical advantages of being restless

The physiological advantages of fidgeting, however, appear to be even more important than the psychological ones. These involuntary and unconscious movements could be a resource of the organism for, among other things, control body weight.

As part of a study, experts from the Mayo Clinic, in the United States, asked 16 non-obese people to include an extra thousand kilocalories (kcal) in their daily diet.

After eight weeks, the participants had gained fat and thus gained weight, but Not that much as the researchers had guessed beforehand.

Which was the reason? To a large extent, that these people they increased their fidgeting. It is as if the body understands that it is taking in too many calories and takes steps “on its own” to combat that excess.

This is related to a system called adipostate, by which (in the same way that a thermostat tries to keep the temperature stable in a certain environment) the body tries to maintain its weight at adequate levels.

If calories are reduced, the adipostate makes the body reduce energy expenditure; If calories increase, look for the opposite: that spending increases. This is what involuntary movements are for.

Such movements, together with the maintenance of a certain body posture and other actions of daily life, give rise to the so-called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). That is, the consumption of calories without deliberately doing sports or physical exercises.

According to the researchers, two thirds of the extra energy expenditure carried out by the participants in the aforementioned work was due to the NEAT. It’s funny, because common sense seems to indicate that these small movements cannot consume too much energy.

Yet another study of the same team of researchers revealed that, when carried out fidgeting, calorie expenditure increases between 29% and 38%, depending on whether the person is sitting or standing (compared to what they spend when they are resting and still).

NEAT can represent an investment of between 100 and 800 calories a day. In other words, similar figures – and even higher – than many people “burn” through various training routines.

How to promote fidgeting and other small body movements

All these data lead to see another way a practice that seems useless in the best of cases, when it does not generate annoyance and discomfort to the people who are around who does not stop moving.

The bad thing is that fidgeting, as already mentioned, it is carried out in a involuntary and unconscious, and this is because it depends – in a high percentage – on genetic factors.

However, steps can be taken to promote thermogenesis by non-exercise activity. Something that can be very valuable, especially for people with habits or jobs that lead them to spend a lot of time sitting.

The sedentary lifestyle it is a major risk factor for multiple problems. A analysis data of 12,778 women in the United Kingdom – published in 2016 – determined that the fidgeting reduced mortality rates for any reason but associated with spending a lot of time sitting down.

One of the simple measures that can be taken is to work standing up. A study review determined, in 2018, that the mere fact of staying in that position implies an energy expenditure of 9 extra kcal per hour.

For a person weighing 65 kilos, standing (instead of sitting) for six hours a day over the course of a year “would translate into an energy content of approximately two and a half kilos of body fat mass“.

In addition, working standing contributes more frequently to the posture changes, which also increases energy expenditure. However, keep in mind that spending a lot of time on your feet also carries some risks, such as possible muscle overloads and other major injuries.

Therefore, it is best to alternate periods of standing and sitting. The latter, of course, do not imply that the movements disappear. You can use stress balls or simply move your legs.

A study of 2016 determined that small movements of the legs while sitting allow prevent endothelial dysfunction of the legs (which in turn is caused by sitting for a long time).

Even something as simple as tensing the muscles with a certain frequency it also contributes to energy expenditure, and also prevents the feeling of numbness that arises after staying for a long period in the same position.

In fact, Kegel exercises, beneficial for both women and men, consists precisely in that action of contracting and relaxing the muscles from time to time, while doing any other activity.

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