Fidget While You Work

Let’s face it. Sitting for hours on end can be a real drag. We sit while commuting, in meetings, completing timely work projects, and binge-watching our favourite television show. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest downfalls of our modern life. In fact, according to Dr. Mark Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa, Canadian adults spend three-quarters of their waking hours per day sitting. The health consequences of such muscular immobility include: an increased risk for weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. When we over-sit, this causes an abrupt and significant decline in blood flow to our legs. Although we can combat this issue by standing up and moving, there are times in which we are forced to engage in prolonged sitting e.g. in an extended meeting. This is where the benefits of fidgeting comes in!


In a new study published in The American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology, Dr. Jaume Padilla and colleagues recruited 11 healthy college students to test the effects of lower-body fidgeting using ultrasound and a blood pressure cuff. In each subject, they first measured the level of normal blood flow through one of the main arteries in their legs, and determined the efficiency of how well the artery responded to blood pressure change. Each subject was then asked to sit for three hours in front of a desk while studying, working on their computer, or talking on the phone without rising. Participants kept one leg still while the other leg served as the “fidgeting leg.” They were asked to tap their heels against the floor for one minute, and remain still for four minutes in correspondence with a timer.

So what were the findings?! Over the three-hour duration, the researchers monitored blood flow in the participants’ leg arteries. Generally speaking, the blood flow in the still leg declined precipitously, but rose in the fidgeting leg, compared both to baseline levels and to the still leg. Moreover, when the researchers again tested the ability of the participants’ arteries to respond to changes in blood pressure after three hours, the artery in the still leg no longer functioned as well as it had during baseline testing. However, the artery in the fidgeting leg responded as well or better than it had at baseline testing to changes in blood pressure.

Although Padilla’s study was small, short-term, and only involved healthy participants, it demonstrates that fidgeting may be a promising alternative to help mitigate the decline in blood flow associated with prolonged sitting. So go ahead and tap those toes, bob your feet, and keep your legs in motion! 


Fidgeting is also a common coping mechanism for individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but can serve a similar purpose for all. If a task or activity that we are engaged in is not interesting enough to sustain our attention, additional sensory-motor input that is mildly stimulating, or entertaining allows our brains to return to full engagement (Rotz & Wright, 2005). In other words, fidgeting can increase our productivity by distracting our brains from boredom. 

The best fidgeting tools for productivity should be repetitive and mindless in nature – just enough to maintain our utmost focus. We may choose to squeeze a stress ball, click our pen, peel apart magnets, or play with .... a “fidget cube”?! Check out this neat video for some fidgeting inspiration at work! 

How do you fidget at work? Let us know in the comments below!


Morishima, T., Restaino, R. M., Walsh, L. K., Kanaley, J. A., Fadel, P. J., & Padilla, J. (2016). Prolonged sitting-induced leg endothelial dysfunction is prevented by fidgeting. American Journal of Physiology Heart and CIrculatory Physiology, 311(1), H177-H182.  

Rotz, R., & Wright, S. D. (2005) Fidget to focus: Outwit your boredom: Sensory strategies for living with ADD. iUniverse Inc.

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