A sedentary lifestyle could devastate your mental health and throw you into depression
Why do we exercise? Apart from wanting to flash our toned abs at the beach, exercising does wonders for our mental health. It’s common knowledge that when we exercise our body produces serotonin. This makes us feel stronger, more confident, and less anxious. But what happens when we don’t get enough movement?
Since most industries require us to sit in a chair for eight hours a day, we have been increasingly falling victim to a sedentary lifestyle. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to put two and two together. A sedentary lifestyle ultimately makes you weak and can have long-term negative effects on your mental health.
How do I know if my lifestyle is sedentary?
That means that if you spend your day sitting in front of a computer or watch TV for six hours or more, you can consider your lifestyle sedentary.
It might be comforting to know that you’re not alone. A study conducted by the Sedentary Behavior Research Network found that less than 21% of adults meet the recommended physical activity guidelines. In contrast, a measly 5% perform at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Ultimately, you move less, yet feel more exhausted than ever. Why is that?
To put it simply, when you don’t get enough exercise, your mind tends to “clog up” with worries and anxiety. On its turn, the anxiety makes you less excited to work out and instead pushes you right into the metaphorical embrace of your couch. You lie down, waiting for your mood to magically improve, which never happens.
The good news is that there are actionable steps you can take to resolve your lack of movement and boost mental health.
A sedentary lifestyle directly affects your mental health
The more time you spend not moving, the more your calories stack up. The weight slowly sneaks up on you and one day, you look in the mirror, completely unable to recognize yourself. As a result, you develop body image issues. This can throw you into a deep depression and make you want to hide away from the world.
Image issues and low self-esteem are some of the most popular side effects of poor mental health. Nobody is immune to this problem and teenagers who compare themselves to others on social media are especially vulnerable.
A sedentary lifestyle leads to depression and anxiety
Have you ever gone for a short walk and thought to yourself, “man, this feels good!” Frequent exercising for at least 30 minutes a day five times a week makes us exponentially happier. When you work out, your body produces serotonin in the hippocampus and midbrain. This effect is often referred to as “runner’s high.” If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, however, you never get that bountiful flow of the “feel-good chemical” and instead, end up feeling bleak.
A study just short of 9,000 women concluded that sitting for more than 7 hours per day makes you 3 times more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression than if you sat for 4 hours or less per day. This goes to show that every hour of inactivity counts. With proper planning, you can integrate more exercise into your routine and feel your mental health greatly improve in a matter of days.
Another study with more than 10,000 participants concluded that a lack of physical activity produces a higher risk of developing a mental disorder. So we’re not only talking discomfort here; we’re talking serious mental health issues like bipolar disorder, chronic stress, and depression.
A sedentary lifestyle is synonymous with a mental rut. Sitting on the couch eating pizza won’t inspire you to go jogging. This is a conscious choice you need to make to break the vicious cycle of not moving and feeling mentally stuck.
The negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle affect both adults and kids
Sitting down itself is not the biggest problem that a sedentary lifestyle poses. It’s about what you do when you aren’t moving. More often than not, inactivity goes hand-in-hand with staring at a screen.
Researchers in the UK used a general health questionnaire to discover that spending large amounts of time on the computer for non-work-related activities resulted in a lower mental wellbeing score. Binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through social media has the same effect.
Some studies have gone so far as to investigate the impact of too much screen time on young children, and the results are troubling. Just two hours of TV time a day increases a child’s risk of psychological damage. That increases exponentially if kids don’t meet the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity prescribed. Experts advise that children be as active as possible to ward off the irreversible impact of extended screen time.
Adults are perhaps even more prone to screen exposure and its negative effects. Unlike kids who mostly use smartphones and TV for entertainment, adults constantly check e-mail, attend video calls, and watch the news. When you pair these activities with a sedentary lifestyle, you stop challenging your brain, as scrolling through Facebook is a mindless, repetitive task. Over time, this results in a decreased attention span.
My job forces me to be sedentary. What can I do?
Great question! While many careers don’t give you the option to be active during the workday, here are ten steps you can to improve your health and wellbeing immediately.
- Go to the gym and do at least 30 minutes of cardio before work
- Go for a walk after dinner or lunch break
- Play games with your kids outside such as soccer, volleyball, tag, hide and seek, and dodgeball
- Do some gardening on the weekend
- Stand on the subway or the bus instead of sitting
- Ride a bike to and from work or walk if it’s not that far
- Ask your employer for a standing desk (this is an adjustable tool that you can transform into both a standing and a sitting station; it’s not one or the other!)
- Walk around the office while you’re making phone calls or just every hour or two
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever you can
- Join a hiking club or any other group activity you enjoy, like dance, rollerblading, and tennis
Anything you can do to get your blood pumping while at work is a step in the right direction. Remember that every little bit helps!
A sedentary lifestyle can make you sick both on the outside and inside. Taking simple measures to counteract inactivity is the best return on investment you will ever have. Set a goal to be more active today! Shortly, you will experience thriving mental health and your only regret would be that you didn’t make the shift sooner.