For many people, sitting is a big part of daily life. Numerous studies link sedentary behavior—like working at a computer or watching television—to physical health problems. A new study from Deakin University’s Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research in Australia finds that sitting is also connected to anxiety. The researchers’ meta-analysis found that low-energy, sedentary activities are associated with an increased risk of anxiety.
The researchers reviewed nine studies that investigated the relationship between sedentary behavior and anxiety. Two of the studies considered adolescents and the other seven looked at adults. The studies did not all use the same criteria to define sedentary behavior. Some evaluated sedentary activities like watching television and using computers, others counted time at work or on transport, and some tallied a person’s total sitting time.
Of the nine studies:
- Five found that increased sedentary behavior was associated with increased anxiety.
- Four found that total sitting time was associated with an increased risk of anxiety.
- One found that 36 percent of high school students who had two or more hours of screen time were more likely to experience anxiety than students who had less than two hours of screen time.
It is not clear what links anxiety and sedentary behavior. The researchers suggest that sleep disturbances, social withdrawal theory, or poor metabolic health may be what connects the two.
“It is important that we understand the behavioral factors that may be linked to anxiety in order to be able to develop evidence-based strategies in preventing/managing this illness. 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,” explained lead study author Megan Teychenne, lecturer at Deakin University.
More than 27 million people worldwide have anxiety. Although the study does not demonstrate whether a sedentary lifestyle causes anxiety or vice versa, it may be that taking up more active pursuits could limit anxiety’s effects.
This research is published in the open-access journal BMC Public Health.
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