Sitting too long every day can affect your physical and mental health. Taking breaks to walk or stretch can help.

Between the predominance of computer jobs and the rise in work-from-home situations, you might find yourself sitting more than ever. One in four Americans sits for more than 8 hours a day.

Spending an average day curled up on the couch with your laptop followed by downtime in front of the TV or video games can affect your physical health — and possibly your mental health.

When you live a sedentary lifestyle, you’re maintaining an unhealthy balance of activity and rest — emphasis on resting. Sitting too long on average impacts you independently of achieving sufficient exercise.

According to research from 2018, most young adults sit for more than 9 hours a day, putting them at a greater chance of developing a chronic disease.

Additionally, leading a sedentary lifestyle may increase your chance of anxiety and depression.

Low sleep quality may be the culprit for those impacted greatly, such as young college students. When you’re not getting a good night’s rest, it can snowball into other health concerns such as a lack of motivation and anxiety.

A 2020 study polled and examined over 28,000 college students and found sedentary behaviors were associated with anxiety, depression, and suicidal behavior. Those with sedentary lifestyles were less likely to be physically active.

Even with 150 minutes of weekly exercise, sitting more than 8 hours a day can negatively affect your mental health, according to a 2021 study.

Researchers suggest that when people spend less time sitting, they may be more likely to get out and do the uplifting things they love instead of potentially staying in bed or on the couch, feeling depressed.

Can inactivity cause anxiety?

A 2015 review found that there’s moderate evidence for the relationship between sedentary behavior and increased anxiety. But more high quality research is needed to confirm those findings.

Why are prolonged sitting and increased anxiety linked?

One theory is that sedentary behavior stems from the frequent use of screen-based entertainment such as video gaming. As a result, your brain becomes excited by the activity, while increasing anxiety at the same time.

A 2020 review discussed how too much screen time can affect your sleep and also increase your stress, leading to more anxiety.

Another theory is that inactivity sets off a chain reaction causing other health conditions. For example, sitting for prolonged periods can lead to diabetes. As a result, diabetes can negatively impact your mental health.

It’s also possible anxiety leads to inactivity, rather than vice-versa. When you experiencesymptoms of anxiety, you may tire easily and experience sleep difficulties, leading to less physical activity.

Emotional health and physical activity are connected. For example, when you engage in more physical activity, you gain confidence and may develop more social connections. As a result, you can boost your mood and reduce your symptoms of anxiety.

It’s not too late to change your routine and engage in a more active lifestyle. Here are some tips you can try to help you sit less and get moving.

Take movement breaks

Every hour, schedule a 10-minute break to move. You could stand, stretch, jog in place, play with your dog, or walk to get the mail.

Consider getting a standing desk if your computer-based job is the main culprit leading you to sit for many hours.

Build physical activity into your daily routine

Thirty minutes of exercise for 3 to 5 days a week can counteract a sedentary lifestyle. Research from 2013 found that movement significantly improves anxiety symptoms.

By fitting activity into your schedule, you can better your chances of doing it without feeling rushed.

Consider using 30 minutes of your lunch break to get in a good walk, or perhaps waking up just a half-hour earlier to fit in some activities without causing more stress.

Go slow and start small

If you’re not already physically active, try to start slowly and work your way up to the level of exercise you need. Some examples of starting small include:

  • park farther away from your work
  • skip the elevator and take the stairs
  • help a loved one do yard work
  • walk your dog

Then, you can gradually increase the time and intensity each week.

Find a partner to join

Activity is always more fun with a loved one or friend. They can also help you stick to your routine.

A 2015 study on aging among romantic partners found that when one partner changes their behaviors to healthier ones, the other partner may be more likely to make the same change.

Set a motivating goal

You want your activity goals to be specific and realistic. It’s crucial that goals are achievable, so you’ll be motivated, not discouraged.

Examples of goals include:

  • walk one mile a day, 3 days a week
  • attend aerobic class 2 times a week
  • 15 minutes of weightlifting 2 times a week for the next month

Consider speaking with a healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise regime to make sure it’s safe and beneficial for you.

Living a sedentary lifestyle can negatively impact your health, including your mental health. Sitting for too long each day can also lead to a higher chance of anxiety and other mood disorders.

What causes the link between anxiety and sedentary lifestyles isn’t clear, but evidence suggests it may be connected to poor sleep, stress, and a lack of motivation to participate in social activities or hobbies. On the other hand, anxiety could be the cause of a sedentary lifestyle.

It’s natural to want to rest, especially when life gets challenging and stressful. But finding a balance of activity and relaxation can improve your mental health and lower your chance for anxiety.

If you’re having trouble managing anxiety or getting more activity into your day, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional to get the treatment and support you need.