I've been a recovering fidgeter for decades, but some recently released research findings support my constant gotta-be-doing-something persona as being potentially healthy. This information is contrary to the long-standing mindset held by parents, teachers and a sizeable portion of the professional medical community.
In an initial fidget study in 2005, results were presented by the Mayo Clinic that, for the first time, offered a shift in mainstream thinking on the subject from viewing it as a form of neurological or psychological disorder affecting one's learning capacity. It's commonly diagnosed in young children, carried over into adulthood in 60 percent of the cases, and labeled Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
While controlling the aspect of sporadic attention remains significant, the unanticipated finding established that fidgeting may help reduce or maintain body weight, and can also be a determining factor in one's genetic inclination toward being overweight or lean. Those conducting the study stated the unthinkable, that fidgeting was comparable in importance to conventional methodologies in distinguishing adult body types (e.g., obese or within a normal/healthy range). Obesity is one of the most problematical medical issues facing our society, and those with an inclination to fidget may inadvertently avoid a lifelong battle with dieting and the bathroom scale.
I vividly recall hearing my parents and teachers telling me and many of my friends to "be still." It now appears they were well intended but somewhat uninformed. Turns out, people with a penchant toward incessant business by involvement in activities, ranging from running the vacuum cleaner or pushing around a dust mop to straightening a closet or washing windows, are on a positive fitness track. Members of the latest Mayo Clinic research team identified this occurrence as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). The bottom line is that people who most often move their bodies rather than remain sedentary have a greater likelihood of staying lean.
Also, fidgeters tend to be adept at multi-tasking, which throws into question the issue of whether or not the broadly applied ADHD diagnosis may be misleading in many cases.
Based on the current study results, those considered obese sit 150 minutes longer each day than their lean, fit, fidgeting counterparts. Another significant spinoff of sedentary behavior was the burning of 350 fewer calories daily. That amounts to adding one pound of body weight every 10 days.
Those working in office settings and other occupations that disallow frequent, arbitrary active physical movement such as bank tellers, telephone customer service agents, and the like have to become more creative with their break and lunch times. For example, eating a lighter lunch and going for a quick walk, or simply doing some stretching exercises while in the break area or bathroom, can burn off a few extra calories. For those in work environments that aren't suitable for such activities, they should consider activity variables that can be performed prior to starting work or immediately afterwards. The important point is that getting physical several times per day with minimal regard for intensity will burn calories, encourage blood flow, and have a positive impact on overall health. Becoming creative in your NEAT-seeking behaviors will gain positive results.
I consider these findings valid, especially since I've been a lifelong fidgeter. I now feel empowered to continue my fidgitations rather than stressed about being unable to eliminate them. Naturally, check with your doctor before becoming a member of the NEAT club. Once you're cleared, I encourage you to become physically active throughout the day, but most of all just fidget whenever you get the urge.
To most, the thought of my writing occupation conjures up images of a guy sitting hunched over a keyboard and staring at a computer monitor all day. That's not my style. Since beginning this column, I've walked to the kitchen and refilled my coffee cup three times, made one trip to you-know-where, answered the phone and talked to an old friend while walking around the house, and took two breaks to go outdoors and get some fresh air. I consider these respites to be routine, nothing out of the ordinary. As a self-professed, accomplished fidgeter I put a lot of yardage on my casual shoes during the day and can't imagine being chained to a desk and stuck in a tiny office cubicle hour after hour. I've been there and done that and I now recognize that my creative desk breaks were indicative of a fidgeter in training.
Don't just sit there — fidget.