Research has suggested that long hours of sitting are bad for you, but fidgeting at your desk may offset some of the negative health impacts from long sedentary periods, according to a new study.
Any sort of fidgeting – drumming your fingers, clicking your pen, wiggling on your chair, tapping your feet – may go at least a little way toward alleviating the effects of long hours at the work desk, researchers say.
In a 12-year study of 12,778 women in the U.K. concentrating on diet, exercise habits, alcohol use and "fidget levels," the researchers confirmed what other studies have shown: that women who sat for more than seven hours a day with little movement faced a mortality rate 43 percent higher than women who spent less than five hours in a chair at a desk.
The study did reveal one unexpected result: the increased mortality risk appears to be counteracted by fidgeting.
Even among the women who sat for seven hours or more, their mortality risk didn't show the expected rise if they fidgeted a lot, the researchers report in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
The researchers acknowledge that their study did not establish a cause-and-effect benefit of fidgeting, but study co-author Gareth Hagger-Johnson of University College London finds the results intriguing.
"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," he said.
While simple fidgeting cannot be considered a good alternative to actual physical exercise, it probably elevates a person's metabolism just enough to partially offset the negative effects inherent to long hours of sitting, the researchers suggest.
"When sitting for prolonged periods, any movement might be good," said researcher Janet Cade, of the University of Leeds. "So although it might not be possible to sit less during the day due to work commitments, if people fidget at their desk it could be beneficial."
This isn't the first study to suggest a healthy component to fidgeting; previous research in 2011 found that this "incidental activity" could improve a person's overall fitness.
So drumming your fingers and snapping that ballpoint pen might annoy your co-workers, but at least you can point to research suggesting that it just might help save your life.