The Science Behind Why Even Our Parents Can't Stop Us From Shaking Our Legs

If you shake or dangle your legs while sitting idly on a chair or watching TV, chances are you've been told to stop doing so by your parents. However, here's why you just can't and how the belief behind it (that it's an act of sin) came into being.

  • The act of shaking our legs while sitting idly or even while doing a desk job (take me, for example, I'm shaking my legs as I'm writing this) is something that almost each one of us is prone to give in to

  • And when the urge to shake our legs kicks in, it's haaaard to stop

  • It's soooo prevalent that people often don't realise they're doing it

  • While it may relax those who feel restless, it's quite an annoyance for others who, somehow, have managed to stay away from doing it

  • Our parents, who, in fact, have tried in vain countless times to get us to stop shaking our legs, almost hates us for not listening to them. In India, it's actually considered an act of disrespect because when you shake your legs, it means you are impatient to hear out the elders' views. (I'm sure it's something similar in Malaysia too.)

    • Mainly, it's one habit that's viewed as annoying all around the world, especially in Asia. The constant dangling and shacking of the leg can be termed equivalent of slurping when you're eating soup.

      Basically, it isn't deemed to be the part of a person with good manners.

    • While the habit of shaking your legs may seem innocent enough, In Japan, however, it can seriously damage your professional and/or social life. The Japanese even have a term for it. They call it 'bimbo yusuri' (貧乏ゆすり). Or Poorman's Leg.

      According to Japanese manners, leg shaking is an extremely rude habit. It indicates that you're either impatient or nervous about something and lack self control. What's more is that shaking your legs in front of a customer or a date indicates that you're an impatient person of low manners.

      However, when you do 'bimbo yusuri' in Japan, the Japanese people are unlikely to ask you to stop as Japanese culture avoids conflict (such as directly embarrassing someone). In other words, telling you to stop would cause you to lose face. So people will try to ignore your bad behaviour.

  • According to ancient beliefs, 'shaking your legs shakes away your wealth and fortune'. Some even consider it 'an act of sin'.

    So, how did all these beliefs came into being? Read on...

    • First things first, the act of shaking legs is a voluntary limb movement. It happens during periods of minimum physical activity like idle chit-chats and restlessness from boredom. As this Quora user notes, the beliefs holds meaning from a metaphoric perspective in the sense that one dangles or shakes legs only when idling or when they are not involved in any physical activity. At a time when livelihood relied on physical labour, idling meant losing valuable time and avoiding work. And thus the saying: 'shaking your legs shakes away your wealth and fortune'.

      This belief has since then passed down generations and has been modified to "shaking legs is an act of sin". The urge to shake legs happens during idling and holds the same meaning as the popular idioms: "Devil finds work for idle hands to do" - If you do not have useful work to do, you will be tempted to do frivolous or harmful things to get rid of your boredom which becomes an act of sin, and "An idle brain is a devil's workshop".

      In short, it's considered stop wasting time and go get some work done.

    • Image from Funny Junk Image via Funny Junk
  • Okay, enough about all these beliefs behind why people think it's a bad habit. Can you tell me exactly why I can't resist shaking my legs, despite being told by our parents to do so?

    It's because you suffer from 'restless legs syndrome' (RLS), as it's medically known. RLS is a neurological disorder characterised by an irresistible urge to move one's body to stop odd sensations.

    • RLS most commonly affects the legs, but can affect other body parts too, like the arms, torso, head, and even phantom limbs. Moving the affected body part modulates the sensations, providing temporary relief.

      People with RLS sometimes are filled with the urge to move their legs so intensely overwhelming that violent movements can be observed, often involving the whole body with rocking movements.

  • According to Science Niblets:

    • "In patients with restless legs syndrome, two features can be observed during daytime hours: periodic limb movements (PLM) and voluntary leg movements.

      Voluntary leg movement occurs in order to get rid of unpleasant sensations and the urge to move. There is a clear division between voluntary and involuntary movements in RLS, which can be reported by patients and further evaluated by expert physicians.

      The website further notes that periodic limb movements are often visible in RLS during the day, even when the patient is subjectively symptom free during that time. Sometimes intense jerks may occur.

      Symptoms of RLS usually get worse in situations of minimal physical activity, such as watching TV, attending business meetings and flying long distances. One may not notice the RLS himself until it gets stronger. When observing with a trained eye, there are many opportunities to observe PLMs in public spaces, e.g. in waiting lounges at airports and at concert halls."
  • The urge to shake our legs is linked with impaired function of some nerve cells called dopaminergic neurons. Meanwhile, RLS features are observed in patients having iron deficiency. However, Parkinson's disease is among other associated conditions as well.

    • RLS symptoms may gradually worsen with age. Nevertheless, current therapies can control the disorder, minimizing symptoms and increasing periods of restful sleep. Being diagnosed with RLS does not indicate or foreshadow another neurological disease.

  • However, the condition is a NEAT way to burn calories

      Image from Quick Meme Image via Quick Meme
    • NEAT, an acronym for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, refers to maintenance of posture, fidgeting and other non-exercise activities of day-to-day life that burn calories. Shaking your leg and fidgeting in your seat or with your hands can burn calories.

      Those who fidget more by shaking their leg, repositioning themselves, standing up and walking around, and so forth can burn 350 more calories per day than their more sedentary counterparts, according to Levine at U.S. News & World Report.

      Simply shaking a leg, however, is not sufficient, cautions Levine, at U.S. News & World Report. He recommends that you intersperse standing, walking and moving about into your daily activities throughout the day.
  • Now that you know why it's so haaaard to resist the urge to shake your legs, the next time someone tells you to stop because they find it annoying, remind them that it's a voluntary limb movement and not something you're doing to come off as rude or annoying.

      This is annoying. Not RLS! Image via BuzzFeed

      This is annoying. Not RLS!

  • Meanwhile:

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