Can Fidgeting Help When Sitting Long Hours at Your Desk?

sitting long hours

Small business owners tend to be desk jockeys, what with all the paper (or computer) work associated with running the business.

Studies show that even the recommended cardio exercise for a half-hour two or three times a week may not sufficiently offset hours of sitting. Something about being motionless seems to increase problems with metabolism of glucose, which leads to Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes.

Can fidgeting — a kind of tiny, but more frequent, exercise — help?

Leeds University in the U.K. has been studying associations between diet and cancer in the U.K. Women’s Cohort Study. This is a study of 12,778 women, ages 37-78 years old, which looks for all kinds of data on the health of women. Also gathered were averages of sitting time and overall fidgeting.

The women were followed for 12 years with routine health checks. The results of the fidgeting study were published in the September 23, 2015 online American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

To study the effects of fidgeting on sedentary people, the women were divided into groups with regard to fidgeting levels, time spent sitting, age, and education. Other things were factored in such as smoking, eating habits, and exercise, to single out the effect the single factor of fidgeting might have on mortality.

The results showed a significant decrease in mortality among those who were moderate to high-level fidgeters. Thin people tend to fidget much more than obese people and women with more education placed higher on the fidgeting index. In the discussion part of the paper, researchers revealed:

“We found that fidgeting modified the association between sitting time and mortality, independently of a range of covariates including physical activity level. We replicated existing findings that longer sitting times were associated with increased risk of all-cause mortality, even among those meeting physical activity recommendations, but did not see this association in medium and high fidgeting groups.”

This is good news for the millions who feel chained to their desks. Getting exercise while working on spreadsheets and emails, what could be easier? No sweating, no pounding heart, no need for a shower or special exercise monitors. It would just be a matter of building a habit.

Everybody has their own style of fidgeting: be it wiggling their feet, wringing their hands, or kicking their legs. Perhaps adding shoulder shrugs can help with the neck pain that frequently bothers computer users.

The mechanism by which fidgeting helps combat the effects of being sedentary is still unknown but the overall impact seems clear. So fidget away.

Office Space Photo via Shutterstock

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JoAnn McFarland JoAnn McFarland is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. She covers breaking news such as new product announcements, government policy, acquisitions and other industry developments. She is a published author and comes from a family-business background.

4 Reactions
  1. I think it is better to just stand up from your desk from time to time and take frequent trips to the bathroom or the water station (as long as it is allowed in your office). It also helps to shift your gaze from the computer monitor to a farther object. It helps with your eyes.

  2. I have seen the fidgeting impact in my strategic planning and training workshops for years. When I learned of research that found our brains process info faster than people can speak and fidgeting helps contain the mental “energy” to focus on information, other people, and an agenda, I incorporated a rule that “its okay to fidget” and provide pipe cleaners and play doh (inexpensive, disposable, and more hygienic than other items) for workshop participants.

    As this study you reference show, fidgeting often comes with those of higher intelligence and they can focus on something they are using in their hands as well as listen. It is VERY effective. I only wish all teachers understood this and didn’t expect students to sit quietly and still during long hours of school.

  3. Hi JoAnn,

    I am a top fidgeter! Especially if I have been concentrating for long periods of time. My fidgeting gets to a point where I just have to get up, breath in some fresh air and move my body a little.

    Otherwise I feel like a caged animal


  4. Nancy, it’s great you recognized the benefits of fidgeting early on and now you have more ammo to back your teaching. It’s apparently good for general health too. On a personal note, I went through a period of extreme fidgeting during menopause and also lost 60 pounds without trying. The only cause I could find was the fidgeting. I mean, I was bouncing all the time and when the fidgeting stopped, I started to gain it back. Now it’s an effort to fidget in that way. It’s what I meant by needing to form a habit.