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Fidget Your Way to a Healthier Heart

Tapping toes, other movement when sitting for long periods may help benefit blood vessels, study suggests

TUESDAY, Aug. 9, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Remember all those times you were told to sit still as a kid? Well, a new study questions that advice.

Tapping your feet or other types of fidgeting while sitting for long periods of time may reduce your risk of health problems, researchers say.

Sitting for extended lengths of time reduces blood flow to the legs, which may contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.

"Many of us sit for hours at a time, whether it's binge watching our favorite TV show or working at a computer," said study lead author Jaume Padilla. He is an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri.

"We wanted to know whether a small amount of leg fidgeting could prevent a decline in leg vascular function caused by prolonged sitting. While we expected fidgeting to increase blood flow to the lower limbs, we were quite surprised to find this would be sufficient to prevent a decline in arterial function," he said in a university news release.

The researchers compared leg vascular function in 11 healthy young people before and after three hours of sitting. While sitting, the participants were told to repeatedly tap one foot for one minute and then rest it for four minutes, while keeping the other leg still.

The participants moved their feet about 250 times per minute, the researchers said.

There was a significant increase in blood flow in the tapping leg and a reduction in blood flow in the stationary leg, the study showed.

Previous research has shown that increased blood flow is an important stimulus for circulatory health, but the protective role of fidgeting had not been studied.

Despite the findings, the researchers emphasized that moving your legs while sitting isn't a substitute for walking and exercise.

"You should attempt to break up sitting time as much as possible by standing or walking. But if you're stuck in a situation in which walking just isn't an option, fidgeting can be a good alternative. Any movement is better than no movement," Padilla said.

The study findings were published recently in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health outlines how to protect your heart.

SOURCE: University of Missouri, news release, Aug. 4, 2016

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