The concept of fidgeting has been around since the 1800s, when Francis Galton recognised the repetitive movements of people in an audience watching a play.
To fidget is the ‘simultaneous sensory-motor stimulation strategies’ or, to be put more simply, it is to make small movements with the hands or feet. If an activity we’re participating in isn’t interesting enough to completely sustain our focus, the additional sensory-motor input that is mildly stimulating allows our brain to be fully engaged. This, in turn, allows us to sustain and improve our concentration on the primary activity.
Everyone and anyone can fidget; some more or less than others, or even subconsciously without realising it. Many of us have different ways of fidgeting; clicking a pen, tapping your foot, playing with your hair, fiddling with your keys, chewing gum, etc… We might even find ourselves fidgeting the same way for specific tasks.
What are the benefits?
More and more studies are revealing that prolonged hours of sitting down each day are putting strain on our bodies, mentally and physically.
Its stress free
When working on stressful tasks and sitting down, fidget toys are great tools to relieve some of that build up energy. This could be due to lowing the level of cortisol, a stress hormone that effects productivity.
It has been recognised that people who fidget enhance their concentration, block distractions, and increase productivity. Not only does it help adults and their concentration but one 2005 study concluded that kids who are allowed to fidget during class learn more quickly than those who are not.
Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire said "if teachers encouraged more fidgeting in class they might find children actually learn more."
You live longer!
Fidgeting could potentially counter these health risks of sitting down. Researchers at the University of Leeds and University College London studied 12, 778 women who sat down for long periods. The study suggested that the individuals who frequently fidgeted had a lower risk of mortality to the ones that didn’t.
In another study, young healthy subjects were told to sit for three hours with one leg intermittingly fidgeting, whilst the other leg was to remain still. It revealed that the stationary leg had significantly reduced blood flow and reduction in artery function than the fidgeting leg.
It burns calories
It’s not enough to skip the gym, but the tendency to fidget can ultimately burn some calories. According to a small Mayo clinic, you can be burning up to 350 calories a day just by fidgeting.
So why doesn’t everyone know about this?
Because the concept is very counter intuitive. It defies common sense. How can doing more than one thing at a time help with concentration and focus? How can it actually improve our ability to pay attention?
It has only been through the collection of hundreds of stories, as individuals talked about what works for them, that we’ve begun to see this body–brain connection. Recent advances in neuroscience are showing us why this makes sense from a biological point of view, and what’s going on neurologically when we fidget.