It’s widely known that prolonged sitting is a risk factor for chronic health problems and early death. But a new study published Wednesday in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggests that if you’re fidgeting while you’re sitting, spending hours at your desk might not be so bad for you after all.
When 14,000 British women between the ages of 35 and 69 were surveyed to determine the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, researchers found that, after all other factors were accounted for, the increased mortality was only seen in the group that reported the lowest level of fidgeting. They didn’t find a difference in mortality risk between women who sat more versus those who were more active—as long as the sitters were fidgety. This suggests that even the small movements involved in fidgeting may be enough to counteract the negative health effects of prolonged sitting, the authors said.
“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,” researcher Janet Cade said in a statement.
The results are consistent with a number of previous studies that have found that even short bursts of light to moderate activity (for example, 2 minutes of walking for each hour of sitting) can reverse the cardiovascular damage caused by prolonged sitting. But these new findings show that increasing activity levels — even while sitting — can yield similar benefits. “Our results support the suggestion that it’s best to avoid sitting still for long periods of time, and even fidgeting may offer enough of a break to make a difference,” said Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson, one of the study’s co-authors.
This new evidence does not contradict or downplay the importance of regular participation in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, which remains key for preventing disease and maintaining a healthy body weight. Rather, what we are learning is that the negative effects of too much sitting time are additional to the deleterious health consequences of insufficient physical activity. So while you probably shouldn’t cancel your gym membership, this study should at the very least make you feel less guilty for being the only one in your office who hasn’t joined the standing desk craze.
Need another reason to fidget? It might even boost your concentration.