Butterfly Hunter/Shutterstock
Source: Butterfly Hunter/Shutterstock

How many hours a day would you estimate that you spend sitting? If you spend the majority of your day sitting, you are not alone. Sedentary behavior and physical inactivity—also known as "sedentarism"—have become a national epidemic. 

"Sitting is the new smoking," according to Dr. James Levine, of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. Levine is the author of, Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, and the inventor of the treadmill desk. He believes sitting is a more serious public health problem than cigarette smoking. 

The statistics on sedentarism are alarming. The average American sits for 11 hours a day. Sedentary lifestyles are related to $24 billion in direct medical spending. 20 percent of all deaths of people over age 35 are linked to physical inactivity. For most of us, the detriments of sedentarism can be remedied simply by standing up and being more active.

Research Links Sedentarism and Increased Risk of Anxiety

A wide range of previous studies on the repercussions of sedentary behavior have linked excessive sitting with health problems such as: heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.

A new meta-analysis of nine previous studies on sedentarism identified a correlation between sitting and an increased risk of anxiety. The researchers from the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University found that a person's total sitting time each day was directly correlated with an increased risk of anxiety. This is the first systematic review to examine the relationship between anxiety and sedentary behavior.

The June 2015 study, "The Association Between Sedentary Behaviour and Risk of Anxiety: A Systematic Review," was published in the journal BMC Public Health.

Workwhilewalking
Jimmy Kimmel typing at his treadmill desk. 
Source: Workwhilewalking

Sedentary activites have skyrocketed in the Facebook age. Most of us spend an inordinate amount of screen time working on a desktop computer, surfing the internet, watching TV, playing video games, or glued to a smartphone. Some people, like Jimmy Kimmel, are combating sedentarism by using a treadmill desk. 

The various types of sedentarism reviewed in the meta-analysis included sitting time while watching television, computer screen time, sitting while commuting to a job, as well as work-related sitting.

Hopefully, future studies on how inactivity and sedentarism are linked to anxiety will lead to more effective strategies and interventions to combat the mental health impact of a sedentary lifestyle—especially for anyone who is forced to sit for extended periods at work or due to a disability.

Do You Suffer from Anxiety? 

It's estimated that anxiety disorders affect more than 27 million people worldwide. In a press release, Megan Teychenne, lead researcher of the new study, said:

Anecdotally, we are seeing an increase in anxiety symptoms in our modern society, which seems to parallel the increase in sedentary behavior. 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.

Most of the studies included in this systematic review were cross-sectional. The researchers emphasize that more follow-up studies are required to confirm whether or not anxiety is actually caused by sedentary behavior.

Conclusion: Standing Desks Can Reduce Sedentarism and Related Anxiety

Wikimedia/Creative Commons
Source: Wikimedia/Creative Commons

Hopefully, these new findings will inspire you to be less sedentary. The detrimental impact of excessive sitting has taken center stage in the media spotlight recently. Many schools and businesses are encouraging students and workers to utilize standing desks or treadmill desks. If you are able to modify your lifestyle choices to include less sitting, why not start today? 

Megan Teychenne concludes, "Our research showed that evidence is available to suggest a positive association between sitting time and anxiety symptoms—however, the direction of this relationship still needs to be determined through longitudinal and interventional studies."

In terms of treating the anxiety associated with sitting, mindfulness and meditation could be useful interventions for anyone who is forced to sit for most of the day. 

If you'd like to read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts: 

© Christopher Bergland 2015. All rights reserved.

The Athlete’s Way ® is a registered trademark of Christopher Bergland.

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