Power Fidgeting…The Key to Weight Loss and Health?

Ever hear or read that people who have a fidgeting habit tend to be more lean?  Have an easier time losing weight?  May even be healthier? 

Let’s take a close look at fidgeting.  Does it help you reach the often recommended guidelines for exercising moderately 150 minutes a week?  By the way, that guideline is meant to give you significant HEALTH benefits, not necessarily get you running a 10K or entering a body building contest. 

Then there’s the calorie burning potential of fidgeting.  Is that really a thing? 

The answer to both of those is yes, but there is a direct way and an indirect way that this works. 


But first, since this is a fairly scientific blog, here’s a definition of fidgeting:  “Making small movements, especially of the hands and feet, through nervousness or impatience.”

There is something else.  In the fitness biz, there is a thing called NEAT, or NON-EXERCISE ACTIVITY THERMOGENESIS.  That is something that they measure, and add in to all the other stuff that you may be doing that burns calories, keeps you moving, and leads to better health. Fidgeting is part of that category.

Now before you start yawning (that burns calories too, by the way), I would like to add in the other divisions of calorie burning in our lives.  There are three of them.

  1. You burn calories just by being you.  That’s called your Basal Metabolic Rate.  That includes all the stuff that keeps you up and running without even moving.  That accounts for around 1300-1800 calories (or more if you happen to be The Incredible Hulk).
  2. Then there’s the THERMIC EFFECT OF FOOD.  Yes, you burn calories while eating and digesting.  That amounts to 10-15% of your usual calorie burn.  (Don’t get too excited about this…if you eat more, the process will use up more calories, but it will also raise your weight.) 
  3. Then there’s any planned exercise that you do, as well as heavy activity like gardening or vacuuming.  This is the most variable of the divisions.  Obviously, some people are very active and others not. 

Back to the NEAT category.  According to good sources, you can burn an extra 250-475 calories by moving around that is unrelated to going to the gym, walking or running a couple of miles a day, or taking in an exercise class.  This extra calorie burn can come from random things like jumping up to get a glass of water, taking the stairs, or even walking around the room when you are trying to think of  something (aside:  studies have shown that you actually DO think better on your feet). 

Random Movement

Fidgeting fits in nicely with the category of random movement.  It is not something that you think much about.  Probably.  I am sure we all know people (or maybe you are one of them) who seem to be on the go all the time.  Catching them in front of the TV is a rare occurrence.  They are also the ones who find it difficult to sit still through a movie or a long car ride.  These are natural fidgeters.  They probably also are constantly thinking of things they should be doing (maybe even a bit OCD).  You will probably notice that these same folks are on the lean side. 

Can you add in some fidgeting if you want to burn more calories even if you are not a natural?  Yes, but you are going to have to make a point of it.  You may not be the person who sits and fidgets through a movie, but you can develop other habits that will add some calorie burn to your day like standing up every 30 minutes, walking around the room during TV commercials, and standing up while talking on the phone. 

Now let’s get down to some fidgeting nitty-gritties.  Fidgeting beats sitting , standing, and gum chewing.  But it IS a low-level form of moving.  It even comes in lower than strolling at 1 mile per hour, which is probably about what happens at the mall.  

I would like to end with two messages.

  1. If you want to burn more calories, you can fidget.  To add to that, the best thing to do is to get up and move around.  In scientific terms, this is called ambulation.  It is good.  Do it as often as you can.  Just so you know, there are some studies that show that obese people tend to become more efficient at doing things so as to conserve energy. 
  2. Fidgeting is inefficient.  The opposite of fidgeting is being still.  So, if you want to burn more calories AND by the way, feel better, you can fidget, move around, and become inefficient in as many ways as you can think of.  It all adds up, makes you healthier, and may even get you in the mood to use energy on a regular basis instead of conserving it. 

Stay well, and keep moving,

© 2020 Kristen Carter, MS. All rights reserved.

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