The Surprising Health Benefit of Fidgeting

Turns out 'sit still' isn't always the best advice. 

Photo by Peter Cade/Getty Images

Good news for all you toe-tappers and pencil-drummers—your constant fidgeting might actually help you live longer.  

Long periods of sitting have been shown to predict mortality, but a new study suggests fidgeting may be one way to counteract the negative health effects. 

Researchers from the University of Leeds and University College London surveyed 12,778 women ages 35-69 who had previously participated in a University of Leeds’ UK Women’s Cohort Study about eating habits. The survey included questions regarding health behaviors, chronic disease, physical activity levels, and fidgeting.

The researchers scored the women's fidgeting levels on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing “no fidgeting at all” and 10 representing “constant fidgeting.” They then divided the responses into three groups: low fidgeting (1-2), middle (3-4), or high (5-10). The results were published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine

Among women with low fidgeting scores, sitting for seven hours a day or more was associated with a 43 percent increase in their risk of all-cause mortality when compared to women who sat for five hours a day or less. But those whose fidgeting fell into the middle or high categories had no greater risk of dying when they sat for longer periods.

"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,” Janet Cade, study co-lead author, said in a statement.

Even among adults who exercise regularly, it’s still possible to spend up to 15 hours a day sitting—and not everyone can take long walks or extended breaks. These results give hope that sitting can be made active, too. 

"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,” added Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson, study co-lead author.

This isn't the first time fidgeting has been linked to improved health. Previous studies have found that people who fidget are leaner, and that "incidental physical activity" can actually help your fitness. So pen-clickers, go crazy—you may just be on the road to better health.