Last week, I posted over on the AllPsych blog about a study suggesting that social norms reinforce a culture of sitting in the workplace.
The context for that study is that researchers generally agree that sitting too much is a problem for public health. Many people probably sit too much in the workplace and are consequently at higher risk for heart disease and early death.
This is one area where the restless nature of ADHDers actually works to our advantage. Previous research has raised the possibility that fidgeting can counteract some of the health risks associated with prolonged sitting.
But fidgeting isn’t traditionally something we celebrate. The hyperactivity and tendency to move around associated with ADHD is often seen as a problem to be corrected. Sitting still is the ideal, despite the damage that too much sitting still can apparently do to our health.
That’s essentially what the study I wrote about at AllPsych last week found. In the study, people were asked to try standing up during a work meeting where they would otherwise typically remain seated, and many of them found that standing at work turned out to be uncomfortable – not for physical reasons, but for social ones. People offered them a seat, for example, or they worried that they would be perceived as challenging their supervisor’s authority.
These findings probably won’t come as a surprise to many ADHDers. We know that fidgeting, moving around or otherwise being too active can draw verbal reprimands if you’re a child and strange looks if you’re an adult. It’s a violation of the unwritten social rule that we’re all supposed to sit still.
Now don’t get me wrong: there are situations where fidgeting is distracting to others. But there are also plenty of situations where we should question our expectations about sitting still.
If people want to stand during a meeting, for example, it really doesn’t hurt anyone – except insofar as it forces us to adjust our beliefs about the etiquette of sitting still.
In fact, we should be encouraging people to stand, move around and fidget in situations where it’s not disruptive. We should be encouraging that behavior not just because it’s healthy, physically, but because people have different levels of tolerance for sitting still and difference preferences in terms of what amount of movement allows them to concentrate best, so we should embrace those differences and create an environment where people find the level of physical activity that’s best for them.
I’m optimistic that we’ll eventually see a change in the culture of sitting still. If this were just an ADHD issue, I wouldn’t be as hopeful, but it’s an issue that affects everyone. It affects everyone in the sense that a lot of people probably wouldn’t mind if it were socially ordinary to stand up during meetings, and it affects everyone in the sense that a lot of us would see health benefits from less time spent sitting still.
It’s time for us to acknowledge that totally lacking movement isn’t always the best state to be in. The sooner we reflect on the social norms we have in place around fidgeting and sitting still, the better – and the healthier, as it turns out.
Image: Fluckr/Huub Zeeman