Feeling Anxious? Don’t Sit On It
Anxiety can leave a person feeling indecisive, trapped, and even immobilized. But sitting still and doing nothing may be precisely the wrong thing to do. In fact, while we’ve known for some time that excessive sitting is linked to a number of adverse health conditions, scientists are only now delving into the relationship between sitting (sedentary behavior) and mental health. Evidence is emerging that sitting is linked to a greater risk of depression. And now, say researchers, they’ve uncovered evidence that it’s also linked to a greater risk of anxiety.
Reviewing previous studies that examined the issue, Australian investigators determined there’s “moderate evidence for a positive relationship between total sedentary behavior and anxiety risk…” Sedentary behavior included everything from time spent watching television, to time spent in front of a computer screen. There was also evidence that sitting time, specifically, is related to increased anxiety risk. The results appear to suggest that getting up and moving is better than sitting passively in terms of anxiety risk.
“Anecdotally—we are seeing an increase in anxiety symptoms in our modern society, which seems to parallel the increase in sedentary behavior,” said lead researcher, Megan Teychenne. “Thus, we were interested to see whether these two factors were in fact linked. Also, since research has shown positive associations between sedentary behavior and depressive symptoms, this was another foundation for further investigating the link between sedentary behavior and anxiety symptoms.”
The research team speculated that sedentary behavior may affect anxiety risk through a variety of mechanisms, including poorer metabolic health, disturbances in sleep habits, and social withdrawal.
I think it’s worth noting that previous research has taken the opposite tack, investigating the relationship between physical activity and mental health. These studies have consistently shown that the opposite of sitting—walking, and other physical activities—are linked to better mood and a reduced risk of various mental health issues. Working out outdoors may provide an added benefit, as time spent surrounded by nature has also been shown to be good for mood and mental health.
George Mammen, Guy Faulkner. Physical Activity and the Prevention of Depression. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2013; 45 (5): 649 DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.08.001
J. Thompson Coon, K. Boddy, K. Stein, R. Whear, J. Barton, M. H. Depledge. Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review. Environmental Science & Technology, 2011; 110203115102046 DOI: 10.1021/es102947t
Megan Teychenne, Sarah A Costigan, Kate Parker. The association between sedentary behaviour and risk of anxiety: a systematic review. BMC Public Health, 2015; 15 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12889-015-1843-x