August 28, 2011

Despite what your mother told you, fidgeting is a good thing

Most people would agree that "exercise" as part of healthy living means physical activity for the purpose of body conditioning-- jogging, pilates, lifting weights, and so forth. But physical activity for any purpose counts as exercise. Pacing while on the phone, doing your laundry or other chores, even nervously standing up and sitting down in a waiting room... it all counts, and it's all beneficial to your health.

Some even contend that these little daily activities are just as important as "regular exercise" for preventing chronic illness. As little as two weeks of inactivity has been found to cause adverse metabolic changes related to Type 2 diabetes in previously healthy individuals.

For similar reasons, increasing patient mobility is slowly becoming integrated into hospital care, especially for the critically ill in intensive care, who are more likely to be bedridden. A recent study found that patients who chose to walk around during a hospital stay, rather than sit still, were able to go home about a day-and-a-half sooner.

Despite what your mother told you, fidgeting (what physiologists call "spontaneous physical activity") is a good thing. It's been known for years that fidgeting can burn calories; a 1986 study looking at human metabolism found that fidgeting accounted for 100-800 kcal per day in their 177 subjects. However, not until recently have researchers understood how vital "spontaneous physical activity" could be to overall health. A 2008 review notes,
Spontaneous physical activity... can contribute significantly to interindividual differences in total daily energy expenditure. Cross-sectionally, spontaneous physical activity is inversely related to body weight; however, more importantly, spontaneous physical activity is inversely associated with weight gain in prospective studies.... Although spontaneous physical activity is a biologically driven behavior, interventions to increase nonexercise activity within the workplace and school hold promise in increasing daily energy expenditure for the average sedentary American.
Get up, move around!

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