Work-at-home desktop in room with closed curtains

The link between extended sitting and mental illness

We all know that a lack of movement is bad for our bodies, but what about our brains? An array of research shows that the sedentary lifestyle that is often associated with obesity and heart disease is also closely correlated with an increased risk of depression and possibly anxiety.

That’s right, the less we use our bodies the more we harm our brains, and as a 9 to 5 office job dominated society this is a huge problem. It has been estimated that between 70% to 80% of employed individuals work 9 to 5 office jobs, and these jobs commonly include a chair and a computer for most of the day.

If you find yourself to be one of the individuals confined to this daily routine of corporate work-induced sedentariness it’s not too late. You have the power to fight sitting related depression with just a few simple steps, but first, let’s look a little deeper into this dilemma.

I’m not sitting for that long every day, am I?

The truth is yes, you are. But don’t beat yourself up over this because you are not alone. A majority of people spend a decent portion of their day in a seated position due to the demands

of modern life. If you have a desk job then you can be spending upwards of 7 hours seated every day. If you are working five days a week then that’s around 35 of the 112 waking hours you have every week. Let’s not forget all the time we spend traveling. Whether it be on a plane, train, in a boat, or in a car you are still sitting even as you travel. Then, factor in the time outside of work that you spend relaxing, reading, on your phone, and even eating.

All in all, the total hours you spend seated every week add up quickly and you may not notice as a result of the attention-grabbing activities we often participate in while seated. If you are at the high end sitting time estimated by various studies, then you could be spending almost half of your waking hours every week in a seated position.

Tip: If you are curious about how much time you spend sitting every day you can track your movement habits for a week. Journals, phone notes, and fitness trackers are great ways to determine how many hours you sit on average every week. This is also useful if you are trying to reduce your sedentary time as it will offer an opportunity for comparisons that you can base your progress on.

But it's just sitting?

Sitting is a natural motion, however, it's unnatural to sit for extended periods of time. Our ancestors moved constantly as nomads, hunters, gathers, and shelter builders. Movement is a natural part of living in the world, however, it is not a core part of corporate jobs.

The sedentary lifestyle encouraged by desk jobs has been linked to depression in multiple studies. In some cases, depression sets in on previously unaffected individuals, and in other cases pre-existing depression worsens. The most important thing to note here is that no age range, health status, or income level is unafflicted by the depressive effect of excessive sitting.

The act of sitting has a statistically significant association with increased rates of depression while the act of exercise, in any form, has a significant correlation with a decrease in depression. In a way, sitting is damaging our mental health because it is time that is not spent on the physical activities that benefit our mental health. The act of sitting has also been linked to an increase in anxiety and stress, but those bonds have yet to be statistically supported.

Note: Some individuals have conditions or limitations on their physical ability that lead to an increased amount of time spent sitting. Individuals in this situation can still maintain proper mental health through a variety of activities and interactions. This article is majorly aimed at the negative effect sitting has in a workplace that encourages sedentary work on able-bodied individuals.

How do I avoid sitting too much?

Sitting may be encouraged in work settings, but there are ways for you to break that norm in an acceptable and mental health-promoting way. Small breaks are all it takes to separate up the monotony of hours spent sitting and staring at lifeless papers and blinding computer screens.

Studies that have shown a link between excessive sitting and depression have also shown depressive links to excessive screen time and a lack of social interactions. The truth is that many of the actions we are required to complete every day include electronic devices and downtime when we are really built for social settings and physical activity outdoors.

The answer to this modern dilemma is as simple as embracing our basic human needs. You can get up to take a walk on breaks, get a standing desk, find time to talk with some friends on lunch, or even just go outside for some fresh air. More ambitious individuals can even bike to turn their sedentary commute into a positive endorphin stimulating workout. The more ways you find to mix physical activity into your day, the more depression-fighting chemicals your brain will produce to combat the negative effects of desk work.

The CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week for adults. That may sound like a lot of time, but if you take a 5 to 10 minute walking break for every hour you spend sitting at work you will easily surpass that recommendation. This method will also give your brain and body a well-deserved break from work to reconnect with the world in a positive emotion stimulating way. There are thousands of ways to mix movement into your day, even at the most sedentary of jobs. All you have to do is find the way that best suits you and stick with it, because your mental health matters and it should always be prioritized over time spent sitting at a desk.


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