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Study Suggests Sitting Can Negatively Affect Mental Health

It goes without saying that the past year has put a strain on mental health worldwide. Not only have we been dealing with a pandemic, but it’s led to changes in our day-to-day lives that have subsequently affected our mental health, as well.

In a new study published in the journal Sport Sciences for Health, researchers identified one big factor at play: sitting. Here’s what they found and what to do about it.

Studying the effects of sitting versus exercise.  

With fewer activities to do and more people staying home, people everywhere are sitting more and more. For this study, researchers wanted to look at how sitting time and physical activity were affecting mental health (i.e., emotional and psychological well-being).

They had just under 300 adults complete online questionnaires where they reported their sitting time, exercise levels, and mental health.

As study co-author Liane Azevedo Ph.D., notes in a news release, “Although our sample of nearly 300 was very active, they were sitting for longer periods, with over 50% sitting for more than eight hours a day.”

What they found.

As it turns out, the increased sitting time we’ve seen as a result of the pandemic could be one of the biggest things negatively affecting mental health. Even people who were getting the recommended amount of exercise (30 minutes per day) reported worsened mental health if they were sitting more than eight hours per day.

Compared to the people who reported high sitting time, those who reported low sitting time (regardless of their activity level) had significantly better mood and emotional well-being, according to the study.

Azevedo notes that if you’re sitting for more than eight hours a day, not only do you want to aim to get around 60 minutes of exercise per day, you also want to work on sitting less. She adds that the negative effects of sitting need more attention and sitting less should be adopted as a public health recommendation.

The takeaway.

The bottom line is physical activity can’t completely make up for the negative effects of sitting for more than eight hours a day. And even if you don’t meet the recommended workout criteria, simply reducing sitting time can make a big difference in your mental well-being.

Azevedo adds that physical activity doesn’t always have to look like a HIIT workout or going for a run. “Just going for a walk, especially in green areas is really important. Any type of moderate activity does have benefits,” she says, adding that their study found even leisure activities and gardening can help both physically and mentally.

If you find yourself sitting for a lot of the day, and it’s taking a toll on your mind, the good news is that getting up and moving can go a long way. Whether you break from your desk for a midday walk, invest in a standing desk, or set a timer to get up and stretch throughout the day, your physical and mental health will both benefit.

By Sarah Regan

mbg Spirituality & Relationships Writer