Fidgeters rejoice: Your pen clicking and toe tapping may be good for you

Study has limits, authors caution

Being a fidgeter may help combat the negative health effects of prolonged sitting, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

There is a growing body of evidence that prolonged sitting is bad for your health, with research finding it may raise your risk of everything from heart failure to cancer. Other studies suggest short walks during the day can counteract some of the health risks.

Details of the research

To find out if fidgeting can help, too, researchers from the University of Leeds and the University College London used data from the United Kingdom Women's Cohort Study, which tracked the average daily sitting time, overall fidgeting, and mortality of nearly 13,000 women, ages 37 to 78. The study participants also provided information on their smoking and drinking habits, diet, physical activity, and health conditions, and were followed up with for mortality for an average of 12 years.

Overall, after controlling for factors like smoking and activity level, women who sat for more than seven hours per day—and didn't fidget much—had a 30% higher mortality risk than those who sat for less than five hours. However, among women who reported moderate and high levels of fidgeting, there was no increased mortality risk from sitting.

While the researchers caution the study doesn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship, they can hypothesize how fidgeting could be beneficial to health.

Making sense of the findings

For instance, "sitting for long periods has an adverse effect on metabolism, in particular, glucose metabolism," explains Janet Cade, a professor at the University of Leeds. Fidgeting could also help increase people's energy energy expenditures. "When sitting for prolonged periods, any movement might be good," Cade adds.

Taking your class for a walk may boost communication, wellbeing

The study has its limits. For example, the authors note women were asked to self-report their fidgeting habits. But Cade says that "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" (Walton, Forbes, 9/23; Feltman, "Speaking of Science," Washington Post, 9/23; Welch, CBS News, 9/24).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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