Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 9, 2010

Fidgeting for fitness

Husband Art says that I can't sit still. One daughter says I'm "twitchy" and the other says I'm fidgety. Mom says I need to relax.

So what is it I do, exactly, to elicit these reactions from people?

When I'm at a restaurant, it isn't long before I start tapping my feet or moving around in my chair.

When I'm at an airport waiting for our flight to leave or for someone to arrive, I rarely just sit and watch people - something Art could do for hours. Instead, I check out the shops, rearrange stuff in my carry-on bag, walk to another gate - or, when I do sit, start tapping my feet or moving around in my chair.

Even when I'm at home in my recliner with my feet up, I don't just sit and watch TV. Art says I "fritz" because I usually go through mail, pay bills, make grocery or to-do lists, read the paper or write notes to people. It's a running joke in our family that I never watch a show from start to finish so when a re-run comes on, it's all new to me.

I thought there was something wrong with me until Art read one of the pages from a page-a-day calendar that my brother and sister-in-law gave him for Christmas.

One date had information about Mayo Clinic researchers who wanted to determine how many calories fidgeting burned. In a 2005 study, they put special movement sensors in 20 subjects' underwear. Ten subjects described themselves as "fidgety;" the other 10 were "couch potatoes" and didn't move around a lot. The finding was that the fidgeters - the ones who played cards, paced or generally spent less time sitting or lying down - were less likely to be obese, owing to the fact that they burned an average of 350 calories a day via their extraneous movements. That could translate to working off 10 to 30 pounds in a year.

After Art read that to me, I had to do my own research.

I discovered that exercise scientists have been studying fidgeting for more than 20 years. Scientist Claude Bouchard studies the genetics of fitness and fidgeting, and he has found that some individuals move more than others and that the tendency toward extra movement is determined by genetics.

Physician James Levine also studies physical activity and fidgeting. Levine has confirmed that heavy people sit more than lean people. This led to the question: do obese individuals move less than lean individuals because they are heavier, or are they heavier because they move less? Many scientists believe it is some combination of both.

But in the end it comes down to this: even though my fidgeting drives family members to distraction, it seems I'm doing something useful for myself - I'm fidgeting for fitness!

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