Try Fidgeting to Control Blood Sugar

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We usually associate autumn with several sensations that delight the senses, including crisp air, warm colors and the smell of woodsmoke. Many of us will spend time surrounded by loved ones, which may include benevolent grandmothers and aunts indulging us with food and sweets.

Pecan pie, pumpkin pie and cobblers may be delicious, but they all also increase our blood sugar levels for a few hours. Unfortunately, if our bodies can’t remove or dispose of the sugar from our circulation, this can lead to long-term issues.

Chronic increases in blood sugar typically means the hormone insulin doesn’t work correctly—we call this “insulin resistance” or “insulin insensitivity.” If insulin insensitivity is not remedied and our blood sugar stays high all the time, this will eventually be diagnosed as diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes), which can lead to a multitude of problems.

There are several ways to maintain insulin sensitivity and control our blood sugar to prevent the development of diabetes. Exercise is one. When Thanksgiving rolls around, some people opt to do a “Turkey Trot” or other organized run, where people run a couple—or many—miles on Thanksgiving morning.

These people are protecting their bodies (call it doing their “metabolic due diligence”) from the looming sugary, caloric assault that occurs during festive holidays. But what if you don’t want to run or you’d rather watch the runners on TV? There may be another alternative, one that is reminiscent of the kids in grade school who would never stop moving.

A recent study from the University of Missouri found that fidgeting (yes, like those kids in class) might be able to help. The researchers had people who are obese fidget intermittently with their legs in a repeated pattern of two and a half minutes on, then two and a half minutes off after drinking a very sugary drink.

The drink contained as much sugar as about two cans of soda. The researchers then monitored the volunteers’ blood sugar and insulin levels for several hours and found that fidgeting—which caused tiny muscle contractions in the calves—after drinking the sweet beverage was able to significantly lower both blood sugar and insulin levels when compared to just sitting. This is particularly important because people with obesity have a higher risk of developing diabetes.

According to this study, fidgeting provides an easy, valuable alternative to the Turkey Trot (which some people dread). If you’re lucky, maybe your post-meal fidgeting will annoy your family members and you can watch football (or read a book) in peace. Happy holidays!

Dain Jacob is a PhD student at the University of Missouri in the Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Department. His research focuses on autonomic regulation of the peripheral vasculature and the impact of environmental stressors and sex hormones.

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