Here’s one more reason to get up from your chair: Being sedentary might be as bad for your mind as it is for your body.
In a recent review of studies, Australian researchers found evidence of a link between emotional stress and sitting. That is, the more sedentary someone was, the more likely he or she was to feel anxious.
Megan Teychenne, who helped lead the study published in BMC Public Health, said she’d seen a lot of research about the physical toll of too much sitting — heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc. But “we wanted to see if sitting time was linked to mental illness as well.”
If the connection holds up, Teychenne, of Deakin University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research near Melbourne, said she sees a few possible reasons why sitting might lead to emotional distress. Many people are spending more time at the computer. Too much sedentary screen time might disrupt sleep by keeping the nervous system aroused. Adequate sleep is a great stress buster.
Spending all that time online might also mean that people aren’t interacting with others, leading to social withdrawal — another known driver of anxiety, she said.
Only nine studies so far have examined a possible link between sitting time and anxiety. “It’s very clear that much more research needs to be done in this area,” Teychenne said.
Hundreds of studies have, however, left absolutely no doubt that exercise is good for mental health, said Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, medical director of the Cheng-Tsui Integrated Health Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She likes the idea of reframing the discussion from “exercise is good” — which everyone knows, but many people still don’t do — to “sitting still too long is bad.”
“It’s hard to convince people to do good things for themselves,” Nerurkar said. But “very few people want to willingly harm themselves.”
For her part, Teychenne said she now gets up and grabs a glass of water every hour or so, to keep from sitting too long. Instead of e-mailing a nearby colleague, she’ll walk over to their desk. And, hoping her approach rubs off on students, Teychenne makes them stand instead of raise their hand in class.
“We can make small changes to see benefits in physical and mental health,” she said.