A woman typing on a computer Reuters/File

Fidgeting or restless movements may counteract the harmful health impact of prolonged sitting, a new study suggests. A team of researchers, co-led by the University of Leeds and University College London, says they discovered that people who consider themselves as moderately or very fidgety do not increase their risk of early death from sitting for long periods.

In comparison, those who only fidget occasionally while sitting for a long time increase the risk of mortality, according to the findings published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. For their study, the researchers analysed data from the University of Leeds' UK Women's Cohort Study, which is one of the largest cohort studies of diet and health of women in the UK.

"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," says the study's co-lead author Professor Janet Cade, who is from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Leeds.

The UK Women's Cohort Study used by Cade and her colleagues contain information on a wide range of eating patterns of more than 35,000 women aged 35 to 69 who are living in the UK. The new study examined data from a follow-up survey sent to the same group of women, wherein participants were asked about their health behaviours, chronic disease, physical activity levels and fidgeting. More than 14,000 responses were received.

To date, there is growing evidence claiming that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for one's health, even among those who are physically active outside work. Prolonged sitting may be linked with watching TV, using a computer, reading, doing homework, or travelling by car, bus or train. Studies have associated excessive sitting with being overweight and obese, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and premature death. The researchers say it is possible for most adults, even those who meet recommended physical activity levels and who sleep for eight hours per night, to spend the vast majority of the day or up to 15 hours sitting down.

Previous studies have shown that breaks in sitting time improve markers of good health, such as body mass index and an individual's glucose and insulin responses. However, no study has ever examined whether fidgeting might modify an association between sitting time and death rates. According to Dr Gareth Hagger-Johnson from UCL, co-author of the study, their 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.

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