You may already know about the many harmful effects that sitting too much will have on your physical health, such as increased risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity, and cancer, along with chronic back pain and diabetes. However, research reveals that excessive sitting may also have significant consequences for your mental health.
A recent study conducted by the University of Tasmania discovered that employees who sat for more than six hours per day experienced increased rates of anxiety and depression compared to colleagues who did not spend as much time in their seat.
The study analyzed data collected from a sample of 3,367 state government employees as part of a larger health program. Participants completed a short psychological assessment to measure symptoms of anxiety and depression over the previous four weeks. They were also asked to report their levels of physical activity, leisure-time activity, and overall satisfaction in the workplace.
Analyzing the data, the research team found a significant correlation between mental health distress levels and daily time spent sitting. Participants who sat for over six hours a day reported higher rates of moderate anxiety and depression compared to those who spend less than three hours per day sitting. They also found differences in levels of psychological distress by gender, with women reporting more symptoms of anxiety and depression than men.
As in other studies of the effects of sitting for extended periods of time, the study found that going to the gym on a regular basis did not counteract the effects of sitting on the participants’ mental health. The employees who spent the majority of their day sitting reported higher rates of anxiety and depression than those who sat for three hours or less regardless of whether they worked out or not.
Michelle Kirkpatrick, leader of the study, observed that, “individuals may be meeting recommended levels of health-promoting physical activity, yet their physical and mental health may remain at risk if they are also sedentary for prolonged periods.”
Ultimately, exercise cannot save you from the physical or psychological effects of sitting too much. In order to prevent or reverse the negative mental health consequences of a sedentary workplace, you have to incorporate more standing and movement into your day through the use of a sit-stand desk, a treadmill desk, or even a desk bike.
Kilpatrick, M., Sanderson, K., Blizzard, L., Teale, B., Venn, A. (2013), Cross-sectional associations between sitting at work and psychological distress: Reducing sitting time may benefit mental health. Mental Health and Physical Activity, 6(2), 103–109. doi:10.1016/j.mhpa.2013.06.004