Get a big enough group at a table and there’s bound to be at least one person who wiggles their foot so much that things begin to shake. Not only is this fidgeting annoying, but increasing research suggests it’s better for you than sitting still.
You’ve been warned that sitting too much can eventually kill you dead, but in the short term, it could lead to weight gain and diabetes and, in the immediate future, reduced blood flow — especially to your legs. (Your arms might be relatively active, when you sit at work or a restaurant, but your legs hardly move.) Less blood circulating could cause hardening and narrowing of the arteries, which is bad news for your heart.
But there are times when you simply can’t stand or walk around, so researchers at the University of Missouri designed an experiment to see if moving one leg while sitting had any effect on people’s blood flow. For theirstudy, they recruited 11 healthy college kids to sit at a desk for three hours keeping one leg still, foot flat on the ground, and moving the other leg for one minute every five minutes (yes, there was a timer).
The researchers tested blood flow through one of the leg’s main arteries before, during, and after the experiment with ultrasound and a blood pressure cuff. Unsurprisingly, blood flow declined in the stationary leg and rose in the active leg. But at the end of the three-hour test, the main artery in the stationary leg didn’t respond as well to changes in blood pressure but it worked just as well or better in the active leg.
The study didn’t test arterial function after participants got up and walked around, and it was a small group of healthy people, but it was enough for the lead study author to suggest that people keep their legs and feet moving while sitting. And enough for the New York Times to say that you can respond to annoyed friends and co-workers by telling them it’s good for you. Don’t forget to mention that it burn calories, too — I’m sure they’ll love that.