By Dr. Mercola
Fidgeting is widely frowned upon in certain social situations and is often associated with rudeness or lack of concentration, especially among children. Even the definition of “fidget” comes with a negative connotation. It means “a quick, small movement, typically a repeated one, caused by nervousness or impatience.”1
This widespread disdain for fidgeting may be unfounded, however, especially as Americans spend increasing numbers of hours in sedentary positions.
Since 1950, the number of sedentary jobs in the US increased by 83 percent. And while physically active jobs represented 50 percent of the workforce in 1960, it makes up less than 20 percent today.2
The average American actually spends nine to 10 hours of their day sitting, and certain occupations, such as telecommunications employees, spend an average of 12 hours sitting each day.3
Sitting for too long has been found to increase your risk of death from virtually all health problems, from type 2 diabetes and heart disease to cancer and all-cause mortality.
But while even regular exercise does not appear to be enough to counteract sitting’s ill effects, small changes in your daily movement might. For instance, people who walked around for just two minutes out of every hour spent sitting increased their lifespan by 33 percent compared to those who did not.4
Which brings us to fidgeting. While there’s no doubt that sitting less is crucial for optimal health, fidgeting while you’re sitting may not be such a bad habit after all…
Fidgeting May Lower Your Risk of Premature Death
A recent study followed nearly 13,000 women (aged 37 to 78 years) for a period of 12 years. The women provided information about their daily sitting time, overall fidgeting, physical activity, diet, and other lifestyle habits.
Among women who reported sitting for seven hours or more a day and hardly fidgeting, the risk of all-cause mortality increased by 30 percent. Women who reported fidgeting often fared far better – after sitting for five to six hours a day, their risk of mortality decreased.
Further, there was no increased mortality risk from longer sitting time in either the “middle” or “high” fidgeting groups.5
So if you have to sit for a long period, and you’re a habitual fidgeter, don’t feel bad. This regular movement could very well be lengthening your life.
If you don’t ordinarily fidget, make it a point to move often while you’re sitting down. Shift your position, stretch your arms, stand up, and change your posture. Even these seemingly small changes may help.
10 Deskercises You Can Do at Work
If you want to kick your fidgeting up a notch, try “deskercise.” The 10 activities that follow were compiled by Cedric X. Bryant, chief science officer at the American Council on Exercise, and John Porcari, executive director of La Crosse Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, for TIME.6
What makes them so useful is you can get away with doing them in your office without causing a scene and they’re challenging enough to hopefully counteract some of that time spent sitting.
1. Paper Pushups
Place both hands on your desk, walk your feet back to a 45-degree angle and do 12 push-ups. This is good for strengthening your arms.
2. Book Press
To work your triceps, grab a heavy book, hold it behind your head, and then extend your arms up. Drop it back down by your neck and repeat.
3. Shoulder Blade Squeeze
Squeeze your shoulder blades together for 10 seconds, as though you’re trying to hold a pencil between them. Release and repeat. This is good for improving hunched posture.
4. Office Yoga
Keep a yoga mat tucked under your desk and try your favorite positions (like plank or downward dog) for stress relief.
5. Chair Squats
Stand 6 inches in front of your chair, then lower yourself until your behind hits the edge, and then pop back up. This helps tone your backside.
6. Tricep Desk Dips
Facing away from your desk, place your hands shoulder-width apart with your legs extended. Bend your arms then straighten them (mostly), keeping the tension on your triceps (not your elbow joints).
7. Wall Sits
Stand against a blank wall then squat down to a 90-degree angle. Slide back up and repeat. This will help tone your quads.
8. Standing Calf Raises
Hold on to the back of a chair with your feet together. Rise up to raise your calves, hold for 10 seconds, and release and repeat. This is good for strengthening your calf muscles.
9. Get a (Leg) Raise
While sitting, straighten your leg and hold for 10 seconds. Lower it almost to the floor, hold, and repeat it on the other side. This will help to tighten your abs.
10. Phone Pacing
Get a headset for your phone. Every time it rings, stand up and pace while talking. This is good for increasing your daily steps (I recommend aiming for 10,000 steps a day).
Sitting Is Bad for Children, Too
We often think of adults as the ones who spend their days sitting, but children are being affected too. Children sit an average of 8.5 hours a day,7 and activity levels are thought to decline steeply after age 8, especially among girls.8
Researchers decided to study a small group of girls (aged 9 to 12 years) to determine if sitting is as detrimental to their health as it appears to be to adults. In adults, sitting for hours leads to constricted arteries in your legs, which impedes blood flow, raises blood pressure, and contributes to the development of heart disease over time.9 Does the same hold true among children?
At the start of the study, all of the girls had healthy arterial function. However, after sitting for three hours, playing on tablets or watching movies, there was a “profound” reduction in vascular function.10 Arterial dilation fell by up to 33 percent in the girls, which is alarming since a 1 percent decline in vascular function is known to increase heart disease risk by 13 percent in adults.11
There were some encouraging findings. The girls’ artery function had returned to normal a few days later when they returned to the lab. And when the sitting time was interrupted by a gentle 10-minute cycling session, no decline in vascular function was recorded.
Still, no one knows what affect sitting for hours day after day has on kids’ health, so it’s best to encourage your kids to stay active. Study author Dr. Ali McManus, an associate professor of Pediatric Exercise Physiology at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, told The New York Times:12 “It seems clear from our results that children should not sit for prolonged, uninterrupted periods of time.”
Schools Starting to Catch on to the Benefits of Movement
Frequent fidgeting, restlessness, or squirming are often used to describe symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. But many would argue that such behaviors are natural when children are forced to “sit still” for unnaturally long periods of time – like the majority of a school day.
To combat this problem, some forward-thinking schools are giving children more opportunity to move around throughout the day, rather than expecting them to sit for hours in desks. For instance, at Vallecito Elementary School in San Rafael, California, at least four classes have introduced chair-less standing desks.13
After an initial adjustment period, the standing desks have been met with rave reviews. The students report the desks are “fun” and help them feel “more focused.” Teachers say the desks make children more attentive and parents say their kids are sleeping better at night… all while avoiding the risks of excessive sitting time; a win-win situation all around!
Similarly, Naperville Central High School in Illinois implemented a special program where students could take part in a dynamic gym class at the beginning of the day, and had access to exercise bikes and balls throughout the day in their classrooms. Those who participated nearly doubled their reading scores and math scores increased 20-fold.14 The results speak for themselves…
How to Drastically Improve Your Health By Cutting Back on Sitting
You can’t avoid sitting during your commute, but if you work in an office you can slash your time spent sitting by using a standing workstation. We are in the process of providing all our employees at mercola.com with standing desk options. If you have a sit-down job, I would strongly encourage you to present this information to your employer and get a stand-up desk. A study published in the journal Preventive Medicine analyzed 23 active desk studies and found they reduced sedentary time and improved mood.15
Committing to sitting less – ideally no more than three hours a day – is more of a mindset than a physical feat. It will take some getting used to, but you’ll find standing and moving around feels every bit as natural, and, really, even more so, than sitting. If you work in an office, converting to a standing workstation will be important, but you should also strive to stand or move around while you watch TV, talk on the phone and any other time possible.
In addition, moving is important too, not just standing still. I recommend using a pedometer, or better yet, one of the newer wearable fitness trackers that can also give you feedback on your sleeping patterns, which is another important aspect of good health. At first, you may be surprised to realize just how little you move each day. Setting a goal of 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day (which is just over three to five miles, or 6 to 9 kilometers) can go a long way toward getting more movement and less sitting into your life.
This should be over and above any exercise regimen you may have. I personally am doing about 14,000 to 15,000 steps a day, which requires that I walk for about 90 minutes. Tracking your steps can also show you how simple and seemingly minor changes to the way you move around at work and home can add up. Other simple ways to increase your physical movement and avoid sitting down at work and elsewhere include:
- Organize the layout of your office space in such a way that you have to stand up to reach oft-used files, the telephone, or your printer, rather than having everything within easy reach.
- Use an exercise ball for a chair. Unlike sitting in a chair, sitting on an exercise ball engages your core muscles and helps improve balance and flexibility. Occasional bouncing can also help your body interact with gravity to a greater degree than sitting on a stationary chair. But this is a concession and it is still sitting, so standing would be a better option.
- Alternatively, use an upright wooden chair with no armrest, which will force you to sit up straight and encourage shifting your body more frequently than a cushy office chair.
- Set a timer to remind you to stand up and move about for at least two to 10 minutes each hour. You can either walk, stand, or take the opportunity to do a few simple exercises by your desk, like those mentioned above. For an extensive list of videos demonstrating additional such exercises, please see my previous article, “Intermittent Movement Benefits Your Health. Here’s How to Get More of It into Your Work Day.”