Fidgeting Can Be Good For Your Health!
December 12, 2012 by Kay Grossman

We all do it. We shift positions in our seats, cross, uncross, and re-cross our legs, chomp on gum, tap our fingers, doodle, and shake our feet during boring meetings or lectures. We pace the room, sip beverages, and twist in our swivel-chairs when stumped on a project for work.

It’s our instinctive way to pay attention in boring or un-motivating scenarios. In the absence of productive fidgets, we are likely to lose focus, daydream, check email on smartphones, surf the Web, or even doze.

We know from brain science that our nervous system must be in a state of alertness appropriate to a specific situation in order for us to pay attention and take action. Underarousal in the brain, due to tedium, disinterest, or perhaps a lack of certain neurotransmitters (as in brains with ADHD), sets the stage for the brain to seek stimulation. Underarousal naturally seeks arousal as the neurobiological system attempts to maintain equilibrium. We (and our brains) simply “feel better” when we have an adequate level of arousal.

What would you do differently if you knew that distractibility is your brain’s natural attempt to gain stimulation by focusing on something more interesting? Or that your restlessness is your brain’s way of arousing itself so that you can focus on what is otherwise not very stimulating?

One of the most effective strategies or “fidgets” to boost brain arousal is movement. It is widely known that exercisers often experience a stronger ability to focus after they’ve exerted themselves. We know, however, that big exertion is not necessary. Even standing while working can provide enough brain stimulation to take action on tedious tasks.

But there’s more! Standing is now deemed critical for physical health. Numerous studies published in reputable journals reveal that extended sitting (defined as only an hour or more) is deleterious to our health, increasing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

A recent article in the New York Times newspaper describes a solution to this problem–standup desks and treadmill desks–which are gaining popularity at a rapid rate. Companies such as Ergo Desktop, TrekDesk, and Steelcase sell versions ranging from $260 to $4000.

I propose that these desks provide a solution for focused attention, as well.

As you stand at a standing desk, walk slowly at a treadmill desk, or even take a stroll down the hall, you arouse your nervous system for enhanced concentration. Balancing on a wobble board while writing works for blogger Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. Standing reportedly worked for Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, Ben Franklin, Vladimir Nabokov, and Philip Roth. It might be a useful way for you to fidget, too!



Fidget to Focus, by Roland Rotz, Ph.D. and Sarah D. Wright, M.S.
“She’s Got Some Big Ideas” by Bruce Feiler, NYTimes, 12/2/12
“Taking A Stand For Office Ergonomics” by Steve Lohr, NYTimes, 12/2/12

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