Fidgeting while sitting can protect the arteries in legs and may help prevent cardiovascular disease, a new study has found.
“Many of us sit for hours at a time, whether it is binge watching our favourite TV show or working at a computer,” said Jaumme Padilla from University of Missouri in the US.
“We wanted to know whether a small amount of leg fidgeting could prevent a decline in leg vascular function caused by prolonged sitting,” said Mr Padilla.
While researchers expected fidgeting to increase blood flow to the lower limbs, they actually found that this would be sufficient to prevent a decline in arterial function.
Researchers compared the leg vascular function of 11 healthy young men and women before and after three hours of sitting.
While sitting, 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. 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.
Previous research has shown 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. However, fidgeting’s protective role had not been established.
While only one leg was exposed to fidgeting during the experiment, in a real-world scenario researchers recommend tapping both legs to maximise the beneficial effects.
However, researchers caution that fidgeting is not a substitute for walking and exercise, which produce more overall cardiovascular benefits.
“You should attempt to break up sitting time as much as possible by standing or walking. But if you are stuck in a situation in which walking just is not an option, fidgeting can be a good alternative. Any movement is better than no movement,” said Mr Padilla.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology.