We’ve all seen at least one person who just can’t stop shaking his or her legs.
In that case, chances are someone has asked you to stop doing it.
That breaks the mood, but it pays to understand that most people are simply annoyed at the sight.
Interestingly, Asians have more reasons to stop you from shaking your legs, though they may not directly say it. The consensus is that it has something to do with manners — or should I say, the lack thereof — and maybe even some superstition.
For one, Indians don’t like it as it’s considered an act of idleness, explained Quora user Navaneeth Rameshan.
According to Rameshan, the belief dates back to the Indian caste system, which was then divided into four classes: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (traders and farmers) and Shudras (workers serving the upper classes). All but the Brahmins performed physical labor for a living, which lasted for a long time.
As a result, the emphasis on physical labor — which only declined through automation in the 19th century — became deeply rooted in Indian society. Shaking one’s legs was ultimately seen as an act of slacking off.
“Voluntary limb movements such as dangling legs happen during periods of minimum physical activity like idle chit-chats and restlessness from boredom. The belief 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.”
While shaking legs is about idleness in India, its more about kicking prosperity off in China. According to language site Han Ban, making it a habit steers the cause of your prosperity away.
“In any other case it is possible to shake absent all your wealth,” the site added.
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South Korea holds a similar belief.
There, shaking legs means “shaking off” all the good fortune, according to Ken Lee at Seoulistic. In addition, it’s seen as rude, especially when one does it while talking to elderly people.
However, across Asia, it’s Japan that’s exceedingly upset over the behavior that they even have a term for it. They call it bimbo yusuri, meaning “poor person shake.”
The origin of the “poor” translation is unclear, but nonetheless, bimbo yusuri is an extremely rude habit to the Japanese.
It indicates that one is either impatient, nervous or lacking of self-control and manners, Japan Talk noted. It’s considered so bad that it could even cost someone their professional life.
Interestingly, Japanese people are unlikely to stop someone from shaking his or her legs. That’s because of a culture that tends to avoid conflict, so they may opt for indirect ways to halt the person.
Beliefs aside, science comes to the defense of those who find themselves married to the habit. Shaking, in general, is an outlet for the release of anxiety, the result of an activated fight-or-flight system.
Yet it also prevents arterial dysfunction caused by extended periods of sitting, said researchers from the University of Missouri. Apparently, they found that fidgeting while sitting can protect the legs’ arteries through the resulting increase in blood flow.
Jaume Padilla, Ph.D., lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology, said:
“Many of us sit for hours at a time, whether it’s binge watching our favorite TV show or working at a computer.
“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.”
Shaking one’s legs is also a NEAT way to lose weight, according to a 2002 study by Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which refers to non-exercise activities that actually burn calories. These include “walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting.”
In the study, Dr. Levine overfed volunteers by 1,000 calories per day for eight weeks. He found that those who consumed more calories than needed increased their fidgeting and other NEAT activities. As a result, they burned more calories.
While leg-shaking has its obvious benefits, a line must be drawn to distinguish it from a thing called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), which unfortunately is the sort that needs medical attention.
RLS, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a neurological condition that causes unpleasant sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. It is currently classified as a sleep disorder, since its symptoms are triggered by resting or trying to sleep, commonly occurring in the late afternoon, evening or nighttime.
RLS is also classified as a movement disorder, since moving the legs is the immediate remedy to relieve symptoms. It affects anyone regardless of age, but can be treated through lifestyle changes (no more alcohol and tobacco), iron and anti-seizure drugs, among others.
The next time you plan to shake your legs around Asians — or anyone annoyed at the sight, really — be ready to recite all its benefits from the top of your head.
And make sure to explain them politely, because of course, you are a hardworking, well-mannered person with goals of prosperity in life.