by Susan McCarthy
Years ago, I was reading an article about weight loss and it mentioned that you could burn up to 350 calories a day with fidgeting. Yes, those mostly unconscious motions that your parents and teachers frowned upon when you were a kid could burn as many calories as taking an hour-long walk.
(The number of calories you burn doing anything, even lying still, depends on your weight and metabolism and probably some other things I can’t name since I’m not a medical professional or a fitness trainer. So, let me just say that moving around more burns more calories. How many more? More than not fidgeting.)
A NEAT Way to Burn Calories
Fidgeting is considered non-exercise activity thermogenesis. A bit of a fussy phrase, very specific, and with the fun acronym, NEAT. NEAT includes calories burned from small, unconscious movements. So, sitting and typing on the computer burns more calories than simply sitting there. Jiggle your leg and burn more calories. Stand up every so often, and you fry another few calories.
Now 350 calories over, let’s say, 16 hours awake averages out to a mere 22-ish calories an hour. However, you aren’t intentionally exercising. These are calories burned with minor, unconscious effort. If your caloric intake didn’t increase, you could burn over 30 pounds over the course of a year. (I like rounding off numbers, so these aren’t exact.)
And, again, everyone will burn calories at a different rate, so this math is very -ish. And, although I’m a fidgeting person, I’ve never lost 30 pounds relying on non-exercise activity thermogenesis. But, then again, I haven’t gained 30 pounds in a year, so, perhaps, fidgeting balances out my sweet tooth.
Add More Fidgeting to Your Day
Participating in several Zoom meetings during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, there were times that I wondered if people had posted pictures of themselves since they didn’t seem to move. They blinked but I was shifting in my seat, nodding my head acknowledging what the speaker was saying, and bending to the side in an attempt to capture my cat who stayed just out of my grasp.
It was a bit distracting watching myself on the screen compared to others, particularly when I found myself musing on my fidgety nature. When I had a job that required me to attend meetings or conferences that didn’t require my physical participation, I’d crochet, which actually helped me stay focused.
You don’t have to go full-on wiggle-mode to gain the calorie-burning benefits of fidgeting. However, notice when you can add a small movement to what you’re doing, particularly if you sit for long stretches at a desk or plop in front of the television at night.
My Fitbit prompts me to move at least 250 steps each hour. I don’t always succeed with this; if I’m focused on a task, I ignore the buzzing on my wrist. You don’t need to fidget on a schedule. Notice when you can move something – an arm or leg or shifting your torso. Those little movement by themselves are insignificant but add up over the course of the day.
Be Deliberately Inefficient
If wiggling in your chair isn’t your sort of thing, consider engaging in what I think of as deliberate inefficiency. Basically, you add in unnecessary trips as you tend to tasks. For example,
Obviously, if you have a busier-than-usual day, this type of inefficiency will be annoying and stress-inducing and so should be avoided.
And, don’t go crazy trying to institute a fidgeting regime. Pick a small action that you could take and tie it into a prompt. For example, “every time I open email, I must stand up and then I can sit and read emails.” The few seconds won’t make a difference to your schedule and you’ll have snuck in a small movement.
Stick some Post-it Notes around your home or place of work to act as prompts that remind you to do a task inefficiently, so you add in more movement when you see the note. (You don’t even have to write anything on the sticky notes, the bright color will be the reminder.)
Fidgeting won’t give you the health benefits of a cardio or strength training workout, but it will introduce more movement into your day. And there will be some days where fidgeting will be all the activity that you’ll be able to handle.
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