Prolonged periods of sitting can shorten your life, but new research finds a simple, albeit strange solution to get some of those years back.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, fidgeting could help counteract some of the negative health effects as a result of sitting excessively.
Using the University of Leeds' UK Women's Cohort Study, a large-scale study on diet and health, researchers determined that women who sat for prolonged periods of time and identified themselves as occasional fidgeters faced an increased risk of mortality. Those who identified themselves as "moderately" or "very" fidgety, however, saw no health risk from longer sitting times.
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Given that many adults can spend the majority of their days sitting, fidgeting may represent just enough physical exertion to counteract the known health risks of extended periods of sedentary activity.
The findings may sound odd to anyone who tends to associate fidgeting with nervous behavior.
"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," co-author Janet Cade said in a statement.
So how bad is sitting exactly? Is it so terrible that it's worth risking looking a little awkward?
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Sitting has frequently been referred to as the new smoking in terms of how it can affect the body over time. According to the Mayo Clinic, long periods of sitting can lead to obesity and metabolic syndrome. It can also mean to increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. In fact, one study even found extended sedentary periods meant a nearly 50 percent increase of risk of death from any natural cause.
Given that we spend years in school sitting at our desks often followed by decades in an office planted in front of computer screens for at least eight hours a day, extended periods of sitting are seemingly unavoidable. Deliberate fidgeting to mitigate the health risks might not be for everyone, but there are other alternatives.
Standing desks are an increasingly popular choice in classrooms and offices. Not only can they improve health outcomes over time for students and employees, standing desks also lead to greater task engagement, according to a study published in April in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education.
Treadmill and bicycle desks allow workers to exercise while they do their jobs, though these options tend to be more expensive than standing desks. Although many employers might consider exercising on the job distracting, employees at treadmill desks performed cognitive tasks nearly as well as their seated counterparts, according to a study published last spring in PLOS One.
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For anyone unable to make such accomodations to a work space, taking short breaks to stand up and walk, even as little as two minutes every hour, can offset the hazards of sitting too much.
So if you find yourself spending many hours of your day sitting, stand, walk, run, stretch, fidget. Just keep moving. Your life may depend on it.