There is a growing scientific consensus that the more time you spend sitting, the shorter and less healthy your life may be. Excessive sitting, such as at an office desk, in front of the TV, even driving while commuting can significantly affect your cardiovascular and metabolic function.
Your mental health is intricately connected to the amount of time you spend sitting. One study after another continues to reveal that your risk for depression soars the longer you are sedentary. Sitting also increases psychological distress, and decreases feelings of well-being, a problem that fortunately can be rectified.
Some of the psychological effects of sitting include putting your mind in a state of mental funk, affecting your productivity at home or work, the accumulation of ‘sticky blood,’ and harsh spikes in your blood sugar rapidly affecting the fluctuation of your moods.
Winter unfortunately exacerbates excessive sitting, as opposed to other seasons when one is naturally more active.
Sitting raises your risk for heart attack, type 2 diabetes, insomnia, arthritis, and certain types of cancer — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sitting for extended periods of time increases your risk for premature death. What is especially disconcerting is the fact that you may be vulnerable to these risks even if you are a fit person who exercises regularly. Science now shows us that temporary vigorous exercise cannot compensate for the damage incurred by prolonged daily sitting, which might make you want to rethink your one hour sweating at the gym.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that intermittent movement is critical for health and longevity, even more so than a regular workout routine. In order to be healthy, you have to get up off your behind — and you have to do it often, even if you do not work out regularly.
Not only is excessive sitting detrimental to your physical health, but studies show it does nothing good for your mental health, either. Just like the rest of your body, your brain depends on strong blood flow to enable neuronal communication between cells, good oxygenation, and optimal glucose metabolism to work properly.
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine set out to determine if prolonged sitting and lack of exercise have an effect on depression. Researchers analyzed the habits of nearly 9,000 women, ages 50 to 55, over several years’ time. Women who sat for more than seven hours a day were found to have a 47 percent higher risk of depression than women who sat for four hours or fewer per day. Women who didn’t participate in any physical activity had a 99 percent higher risk of developing depression than women who exercised.
The findings were clear: excessive sitting and lack of exercise resulted in an increase in depression symptoms among middle-aged women. Researchers concluded that increased physical activity could alleviate existing depression symptoms and possibly even prevent future symptoms. Reducing the amount of daily sitting time may relieve existing symptoms of depression, while increasing endorphins.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to refrain from sitting altogether, given today’s hectic lifestyle. Most office workers report sitting down for eight to 10 hours a day or more. Luckily, the good news is that there are some excellent strategies to help counter the effects of sitting, and they are not that difficult to learn and incorporate into your daily routine. Some of them can include:
- Standing up every so often, optimally every 15 minutes, and performing a different stretch exercise for 30-60 seconds. These can include standing neck stretches, progressive muscle relaxations, or squeezing your shoulder blades together, and then releasing.
- Taking phone calls standing up while you are pacing, even for conference calls.
- Standing up during TV commercial breaks, or doing some jumping jacks.
- Carrying your groceries to your car, as opposed to putting them directly in your cart.
- Walking around the block or the perimeter of your office when you take your coffee break.
- Simply standing up 20 times in any creative way spread throughout the day — a powerful antidote to long periods of sitting which is more effective than simply walking.
As with most things in life, awareness is key. There are myriad hidden opportunities to stand up during the day, so be creative in your approach to have a clear brain, completely devoid of that mental fog or cloudiness most people all too often describe.
Van Uffelen, J. Z., Van Gellecum, Y. R., Burton, N. W., Peeters, G., Heesch, K. C., & Brown, W. J. (2013). Sitting-time, physical activity, and depressive symptoms in mid-aged women. American Journal Of Preventive Medicine, 45(3), 276-281. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2013.04.009