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Sitting More Linked To Higher Symptoms Of Depression, Anxiety

Researcher find an association between sitting and mental health.

Researchers recommend people working from home to take breaks when sitting for long periods of time stay physically and mentally fit.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : November 11, 2021 11:57 AM IST

As work from home, online classes and self-isolation become the new norms during the COVID-19 pandemic, our dietary and lifestyle habits have changed dramatically. With people spending more time at home, the daily commute is now usually limited between the bedroom and the living room, and Netflix has taken over the time otherwise spent at the gym. In short, many of us have suddenly became more sedentary, thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), physical inactivity is a leading cause of disease and disability. Sedentary lifestyle is linked to increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, blood pressure, as well as depression and anxiety.

A study by Iowa State University also found that people who spent a higher amount of time sitting were likely to have higher symptoms of depression.

How sedentary behaviours affect mental health

Jacob Meyer, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and lead author of the paper and his team initiated the study to understand how physical activity and sedentary behaviours are related to mental health, and how changes to those influence the way people think, feel and perceive the world. They surveyed more than 3,000 people from all 50 states and the District of Colombia in March 2020, asking questions like how much time they spent doing activities, like sitting, looking at screens and exercising before and during the Covid pandemic. The participants also reported changes to their mental wellbeing (e.g., depression, anxiety, feeling stressed, lonely).

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The U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 2.5-5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. The survey results showed that participants who were meeting this guideline before the pandemic decreased their physical activity by 32%, on average, shortly after COVID-19-related restrictions came into effect. They also reported feeling more depressed, anxious and lonely. bThe survey findings were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health last year.

Does it mean more sitting causes depression?

Meyer and his fellow researchers conducted a follow up survey between April and June 2020 to see whether the participants' behaviours and mental health changed over time. Participants were asked to fill the same survey each week during the study period.

In the second study, they found that on average the mental health of the participants improved over the eight-week period as they adjusted to life in the pandemic. However, the participants whose sitting times stayed high experienced blunted mental health improvements, meaning their depressive symptoms didn't improve in the same way as everyone else's.

Meyer, who is the lead author of the paper published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, emphasized that finding an "association" between sitting and mental health doesn't mean more sitting causes depression. It may be that people who were more depressed sat more or that people who sat more became more depressed, or there could be some other factors we did not know, he noted.

While he feels more investigation into this association is needed, Meyer recommended people to take breaks when sitting for long periods of time.

Meyer and his team are planning to make their monthly survey data from June 2020 to June 2021 publicly available soon.

With inputs from agencies

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