Why are we still telling kids to sit down and sit still? Fidgeting can reduce the health risks posed by sedentary behaviour!

A recent study of 40 pre-school aged children looked to determine whether any health benefits can be attributed to fidgeting. Fidgeting is movement and every movement we make is contributing to our daily physical activity energy expenditure. Energy expenditure is another term for calorie burn, so a higher daily physical activity energy expenditure generally means we can consume more calories through food and drink without creating a calorie surplus and gaining weight as a result. With the childhood obesity crisis high on the national agenda, are we overlooking the simplest of solutions by allowing teachers to continue to convey the ‘sit down and sit still’ rule in the classroom?

Fidgeting is movement and any movement is good!

Movement in any form, whether it be upper body, lower body or full body is good for us. Higher levels of movement and physical activity are associated with numerous health benefits such as reduced risk of all-cause mortality. The trouble is, there seems to be a misguided perception that physical activity must be in the form of structured exercise, such as a P.E class, to carry any benefit to health. This is not true. There are many types, or dimensions, of physical activity that are demonstrably important for health and wellbeing. Of course, an active P.E. class is very important and will benefit health independently, but that is only a one dimension of an individual’s overall multidimensional physical activity profile. To get a true sense of how active someone is, we must look at ALL of the movement they are doing throughout the day. Fidgeting is movement, all be it only of a light intensity, but movement nevertheless, therefore it must be considered. The study found that the difference in calorie burn between the high and low fidget groups was roughly 6 kcal per hour. At first glance, it may seem like a small difference, but when you consider the amount of time a child will spend sitting at a desk on a daily basis, it quickly adds up.

How does this relate to the working population?

The ‘sit down and sit still’ message persists into adulthood with many of us desk-bound for much of our working lives.  With much of the focus now on breaking up long periods of sitting with at least light intensity activity, for the millions constrained by the sedentary nature of their job, could the answer be to fidget more whilst sitting at a desk. A long-term cohort study followed 12, 778 women aged between 37 and 78 for an average of 12 years to determine whether fidgety behaviour modified all-cause mortality risk. They found that fidgeting likely reduced the risk of all-cause mortality commonly associated with longer periods of sitting, however did acknowledge that more research was required to validate their findings and identify mechanisms.

So, in the near future, don’t be surprised to find the act of fidgeting transition from being an annoying distraction to a healthy habit both in the classroom and the workplace.