Between virtual school, working from home, and gyms closing, many of us have done a lot more ‘sitting’ over the last two years. Before COVID-19, you may have moved around throughout your day — whether it was by commuting, walking to meetings or classes, socializing at lunch, or running errands. The pandemic doesn’t offer the same opportunities (add Winter weather to the mix).
Keep reading to find out how sitting might affect your mental health and how you can begin altering your habits for improved mental well-being.
Sedentary Lifestyle and Depression: What’s the Link?
It’s no surprise that our lifestyle habits play an essential role in our mental health — and research backs this up. Studies show an undeniable link between a sedentary lifestyle and anxiety and depression.
Further research shows how increased and passive, sedentary behaviour, such as sitting in front of the TV or computer, can actually increase the risk of depression and anxiety. So, why does this happen? What’s going on beneath the surface?
The Impact of Sitting on Your Mental & Physical Health
The less you use your muscles throughout the day, the lower your energy requirements, and the slower your metabolic rate can become. This means you burn fewer calories and require less energy to maintain your current state.
Over time, excess sitting can contribute to a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Studies show that this happens because muscular passivity increases insulin resistance and affects the metabolism of fatty acids in muscular tissue. Sitting too much can also lead to increased weight gain because of lower energy expenditure, making someone more susceptible to various health conditions.
Your brain primarily functions off of glucose. However, with insulin resistance (often perpetuated by a lack of activity and a higher carb/sugar diet), an individual may experience a decline in the brain’s functions and neuroprotective effects. This not only increases your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease down the road, but it can also reduce cognitive function, lead to hormonal imbalances, and double a person’s risk of developing a major depressive disorder.
As a result, you may notice that the more you sit, the less you move, and the lower your mood becomes. The good news is that the opposite is also true. A study conducted at the University of College London found that even just 60 minutes of additional light activity a day can reduce depressive symptoms by 10%. For some individuals, this could have drastically significant benefits for their mental health.
Sitting, Screen Time, and Mental Health: Where Should You Draw the Line?
Screen time doesn’t just lead to poor physical health outcomes. Research shows that it can significantly disrupt a person’s sleep. This happens because the light of these screens disrupts the body’s natural circadian rhythm by suppressing melatonin, which is your “sleep hormone.”
As you may already know, sleep is essential for optimal mental and physical health. When you’re sleep-deprived, your hormones drastically shift, creating mood and other imbalances.
Inevitably, sitting and resting are essential parts of life. Many individuals sit for work. Sitting after a long day can help you relax and de-stress — but moving your body is just as crucial. Most experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity a week, whether it’s walking, swimming, skiing or biking. If it’s spread out over the week, it equates to just 22 minutes a day.
To get in movement throughout the day, consider adding in the following activities:,
- Going for a morning or evening walk.
- Take breaks throughout your workday to stretch and walk around. Setting reminders on your phone can also help you remember to do this.
- Keep it light when you’re feeling unmotivated. Even when you’re not feeling that workout, a mini-workout can offer similar benefits.
- Parking your car in the farthest spot at the grocery store.
- Taking part in hobbies that require movements, such as gardening or shovelling.
- Taking calls while walking around or standing.
- Doing bodyweight workouts in your own home.
- Using a fitness tracker.
- Purchasing a standing desk or an under-desk treadmill.
- Dancing to music.
At Bhatia Psychology Group, we are here for you. Whether you’re struggling to cope with anxiety or experiencing depression, we can help. Together, we will find the best approach that works for you and your life. Contact us today for more information.