When it’s cold outside and you’ve got a pile of work to get through, it can be tempting to hunker down and eat lunch al desko. But sitting all day is not good for your body – or your mind.
We already know that sedentary lifestyles can lead to a long list of physical health problems, from back ache, muscle weakness and slow digestion to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. But new research based on teenagers highlights the negative impact it can have on mental health, too.
Spending long periods of time sitting each day is linked to an increased risk of depression, according to the new study led by University College London – but walking could counteract the impact.
The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, analysed the sitting behaviour of more than 4,000 young people aged 12, 14 and 16, then looked at instances of depression once they reached 18.
The period of time teens spent sitting per day increased as they aged, going from an average of seven hours and 10 minutes at the start of the study to eight hours and 43 minutes by the end.
The researchers found that every additional 60 minutes of sedentary behaviour per day was associated with an increase in depression. Those with consistently high amounts of time spent sitting at all three ages had 28.2% higher depression scores by age 18, the researchers said.
However, walking could make a difference. The study found that an additional 60 minutes of light activity (such as walking) each day could significantly lower the risk.
While the study focused on teenagers, its results serve as a reminder to adults about the dangers of sitting all day – particularly as so many of us sit in front of a screen for eight-hour stints.
“We found that it’s not just more intense forms of activity that are good for our mental health, but any degree of physical activity that can reduce the time we spend sitting down is likely to be beneficial,” said the study’s lead author, PhD student Aaron Kandola.
“We should be encouraging people of all ages to move more, and to sit less, as it’s good for both our physical and mental health.”
You don’t need to wait for spring to enjoy a lunchtime or post-work stroll, so what are you waiting for? If you’re able to, wrap up warm and get those steps in.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: email@example.com
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.