Sit a Lot at Work? Fidgeting Could Help you Stay Healthy

Sit a Lot at Work? Fidgeting Could Help you Stay Healthy
General Health

Your fidgeting may drive your boss crazy, but being restless at your desk may save you from the damning statistic that sitting for more than 8 or 9 hours a day raises your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and early death.

Researchers from the University of Leeds and the University College London examined data taken from the University of Leeds’ UK Women’s Cohort Study, which included nearly 13,000 women aged 37 to 78. Participants were asked about how many hours they spend sitting each day, and to rate their frequency of fidgeting on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “no fidgeting at all” and 10 being “constant fidgeting.” The women also reported on their diets, as well as their exercise, smoking, and drinking habits.

The study’s results are published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

The women filled out the questionnaires from 1999 to 2002, and scientists followed up with them for an average of 12 years.

Women who sat for 7 or more hours a day were found to have a 30% increased risk of dying from any cause than women who sat for 5 hours or less. Researchers discovered that the increased risk only appeared to apply to the more sedentary women who said they rarely fidgeted. They found no greater risk of dying for those who said they fidgeted moderately or frequently. [1]

The study abstract concludes:

“Fidgeting may reduce the risk of all-cause mortality associated with excessive sitting time. More detailed and better-validated measures of fidgeting should be identified in other studies to replicate these findings and identity mechanisms, particularly measures that distinguish fidgeting in a seated from standing posture.”

Tapping your foot, clicking a pen, or swiveling back and forth in an office chair didn’t appear to lower the body-mass index, but Janet Cade, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Leeds, says that fidgeting might boost metabolism.

“We know that people who sit for a long time have abnormal glucose metabolism for example, and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. So fidgeting might just be improving those outcomes,” says Cade.

“While further research is needed, the findings raise questions about whether the negative associations with fidgeting, such as rudeness or lack of concentration, should persist if such simple movements are beneficial for our health.”

The study isn’t the first time that fidgeting has been linked to better health. In 2011, researchers from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, concluded that “incidental activity” could improve overall fitness.

Even if fidgeting doesn’t improve your physical health, it might be good for your mental health: Many scientists believe that fidgeting is nature’s way of helping us deal with the departure from our hunting-gathering roots, and that it helps us work of nervous energy. [2]

If you’re not the type to fidget much, you can still learn to be more deliberate about your activity level. Try getting up to stretch, shifting your position, or pacing while you’re on the phone. You could even invest in a standing desk.

Additional Sources:

[1] CBS News

[2] The Washington Post