New study suggests fidgeting is good for you:
Are you the fidgeter of the office? Do you drum your fingers on the
table or tap your feet throughout the morning meeting? Don't be
self-conscious about it - you may be adding years to your life.
A new study suggests that fidgeting counteracts some of the negative
health effects associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
Though sitting for long hours is associated with health problems and
the risk of early death, British researchers have found that sedentary
women who fidget were at no higher risk of death, even if they were
sedentary for seven or more hours a day, according to a report published
in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
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While the finding of an association between fidgeting and a lower
risk of death doesn't constitute proof that foot tapping will make you
live longer, "it's a really nice suggestion that fidgeting does serve a
useful purpose," says Dr. Seth S. Martin, an assistant professor of
medicine and cardiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of
Medicine and associate director of the lipid centre at Hopkins's
Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Centre.
"It makes sense to me that even this low level of energy expenditure
might be protective," says Martin, who is unaffiliated with the new
While the researchers aren't sure how fidgeting makes sedentary folks
healthier, they have some theories.
"Fidgeting might influence our metabolic rate in a beneficial way,
perhaps offsetting some of the negative effects of sitting," says study
co-author Janet Cade, a professor in the school of food science and
nutrition at Leeds University. "For example, it might be linked to
improved glucose metabolism. Fidgeting might also affect energy
expenditure and intake."
As part of the study, Cade and her colleagues asked 12,778 women
questions at two different intervals. The first questionnaire focused on
the participant's eating habits. The follow-up questions focused on
their other health behaviours, chronic diseases, physical activity
levels, and how much fidgeting they do.
The researchers found that moderate to frequent fidgeting
counteracted the impact that sedentariness had when it came to early
death risk. And that was even after researchers accounted for numerous
other health factors including age, chronic diseases, physical activity
level, educational attainment, occupational social status, smoking,
alcohol use, fruit and vegetable consumption and time spent sleeping.
Why did the researches focus on fidgeting?
"My husband is a big fidgeter and I thought we should include a
question about that in our study," Cade says. "We were interested in all
aspects of lifestyle in relation to long term health outcomes, so I
thought it was important to include as much as we could about physical
activity [even though] fidgeting is not normally considered in these
Martin suspects the findings will be equally applicable to men.
It's not clear how the findings can be framed into advice for the
general public, says Dr. Margaret B. Conroy, an associate professor of
medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical
"Even though it makes physiological sense that a very small amount of
physical activity may account for metabolic activity, how practical is
this information for me as a primary care physician?" Conroy asks. "How
do you instruct someone to fidget? I think of fidgeting as an
unconscious movement." The important message for Conroy is that the
study also reiterated the findings of other researchers, linking health
risks to remaining sedentary for long periods of time.
One weaknesses of the study is that it depended solely on the women's
recollections of their fidgetiness, Martin says, and those weren't
necessarily accurate. "The next step would be to directly measure how
much people are fidgeting with a wearable device," Martin says. "But the
fact that they found this association with a crude measurement is really
exciting. This study will probably generate a lot of interest and spur