Dr Simon Fryer, University of Gloucestershire.

New research encourages seated workers to fidget

New research from University of Gloucestershire is uncovering how regular ‘leg fidgeting’ could improve the cognitive function of adults who find themselves sitting for extended periods of time and potentially damaging their health.

Two years on from the first virus lockdown and Sports and Exercise experts at the University have found that home and office workers are spending increased amounts of time sitting, threatening a rise in cognitive and cardiovascular-linked health problems.

As well as sitting longer for work, travel and TV viewing, growing UK adult inactivity levels and Western diets high in fat and refined sugar are negatively impacting cognitive function and blood pressure.

However, the researchers found that many of these health challenges can be moderated by regular activity in the form of ‘fidgeting’ in the form of seated calf-muscle raises.

Dr Simon Fryer, Senior lecturer in Sport & Exercise Physiology at University of Gloucestershire, explains:

“The aim of our study was to see if regular leg fidgeting can offset the harm caused by prolonged sitting after eating a typical Western meal. In particular, we wanted to find out whether fidgeting can improve blood flow to the brain and enhance cognition.

“We took 13 healthy males who ate a typical Western meal and then completed three hours of uninterrupted sitting. On another occasion, the same participants again sat for three hours, but this time were asked to fidget for one minute, every five minutes.

“Their cognitive and cerebral function was assessed before and after sitting, and the results showed that they were less fatigued and made far fewer errors during a series of tests.

A mounting body of evidence shows sitting for too long is significantly bad for your health, and a number of studies linking inactivity with being overweight and numerous cardiovascular diseases.

“In addition high fat diets are often associated with circulatory diseases, which results in up to 160,000 deaths in the UK each year,” continues Dr Fryer.

“We know that eating high fat meals and long periods of uninterrupted sitting both contribute independently to vascular dysfunction. What we didn’t understand until recently, is whether the combination of these two behaviours makes the dysfunction even worse.

“Our ongoing studies in this areas show that uninterrupted sitting, even for an hour, can cause cardiovascular dysfunction, particularly in the legs, something which can be prevented by regularly breaking up sitting using simple aerobic activities such as fidgeting, walking or light exercise.

“Our latest data compilation has brought together all known prolonged sitting studies to provide a better understanding of its effects on poor cardiovascular health. We’ve also examined how physical activity helps to lessen associated risks.

Dr Simon Fryer will be discussing how prolonged sitting increases cardiovascular risk at TEDxCheltenham, which takes place on 13th May, 2022, from 6:30-10pm

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