Study of 12,000 UK women found fidgeters could be protecting themselves against effects of sitting for long periods at work
People who spend most of the day sitting down could undo some of the damage to their health by having a good fidget, say researchers.
But a new study of more than 12,000 UK women suggests that those who claimed to fidget the most were apparently protected against the ravages of being seated. The women who sat still for hours on end were more likely to have died over the course of the study than those whose limbs tapped, wobbled and gently vibrated.
“Those of us who are more fidgety seem to have better long term health outcomes,” said Janet Cade, professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Leeds.
The findings suggest that work colleagues who are constantly tapping their feet might be encouraged to carry on rather than urged to stop, and that teachers might want to rethink their advice to similarly lively school children.
“It might be a good thing to fidget. I don’t think we are going to train people to fidget for health reasons, but it’s interesting that these small, active movements could be beneficial,” said Cade.
In the study, 12,778 women aged 37 to 78 were asked to provide information on their average daily sitting time and to score the amount they fidgeted on a scale from one to 10, with one being “no fidgeting at all” and 10 being “constant fidgeting”.
Cade also gathered details on their diets, exercise regimes, and how much they smoked and drank alcohol. The women were first approached between 1999 and 2002 and followed up 12 years later.
Cade divided the women into three groups, namely low, middle and high fidgeters. Writing in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, she found that women who sat for seven or more hours a day were 30% more likely to have died from any cause than those who sat for five or less hours, but only if they were low fidgeters. Those in the middle and high fidgeting groups had no greater risk of dying when they sat for the longer periods.
The study builds on work that has highlighted the dangers of spending long periods sitting down, even for people who are physically active out of office hours.
The findings are only suggestive so far, because the women may have fidgeted more or less than they thought. Another unknown is whether fidgeting is a proxy for something else that impacts on people’s health.
But Cade said the link is worth looking into. It is possible, she said, that fidgeting might alter physiological processes even when the activity level is far below that of more conventional exercise.
“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,” she said.
The NHS recommends that adults get about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. But Cade points out that even adults who achieve this, and sleep for eight hours a night, can still spend more than 15 hours a day being sedentary if they put their minds to it.
Gareth Hagger-Johnson, a co-author on the study at University College, London, added: “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.”
This article was written by Ian Sample Science editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 23rd September 2015 05.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010