The Fidget Factor

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on January 15, 2006 · 0 comments

Researchers have long wondered why some people gain weight while others, who eat the same amount, don’t.

One answer to this mystery might be the “fidget factor” – finger tapping, leg jiggling, foot wiggling, hair twirling, gum chewing. These habits can burn a few hundred calories a day. And over a lifetime, the calories burned through fidgeting could mean the difference between gaining weight or not.

Researchers who tracked the daily activities of fidgeters and non-fidgeters found that people who fidgeted burned 350 more calories each day than those who tended to sit quietly. In one study, overweight subjects sat, on average, 150 minutes a day. Meanwhile, the lean subjects spent two hours a day on their feet. This distinction is significant because few people are still while they stand. There is natural tendency to sway, and move your feet, legs and arms. Researchers call these ordinary movements “nonexercise activity thermogenesis” or NEAT.

Research on fidgeting has also helped dispel the myth that overweight people move less because they are heavy. It’s actually the other way around. A person’s natural tendency to sit still or move around is biological. Fidgeters are born that way. If you are not a fidgeter, it’s unlikely that you’ll turn into one.

Our modern environment works against non-movers, giving them far too many opportunities to sit still. Fifty years ago you were more likely to walk to school, open cans by hand, and hang up clothes to dry. Now, we often let modern conveniences do the heavy lifting.

Some weight control experts feel that overweight people can be taught NEAT-seeking behaviors – how to incorporate extra movement into their daily lives. Pace while you talk on the phone, walk the long way to the restrooms at work, take the stairs instead of the escalator. Even simple things like getting off the couch to change the channel or using a manual can opener adds to your daily NEAT quotient.

Next time you spontaneously start moving to your favorite song on the radio – that’s NEAT – you’re burning calories.

A NEAT Idea:
Put a pad and pencil at the top and bottom of the stairs and make a check mark every time you go up or down. You’ll burn 10 calories a trip.

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