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The Impact of Reducing Sedentary Behavior (SB) on Mental Health

— July 10, 2024

The digital age has increased sedentary lifestyles, impacting mental and physical health.

In today’s world, many individuals are getting less exercise than ever before. The digital age has brought with it extensive use of electronic devices no longer limited to television and radios, but including smartphones, tablets, gaming systems, and more. There are more options for transportation to and from one’s favorite places, taking away the requirement for walking or biking, and with social media has come a desire for online connection with others rather than meeting in person. Mental health has also suffered as people are opting for less active lifestyles, with rates of depression and anxiety skyrocketing alongside obesity, type 2 diabetes, and poor cardiovascular health. As a result of a perfect storm of unhealthy thought processes and behaviors, sedentary behavior (SB) has become a very real concern for society as a whole. Because this lifestyle has been linked to a variety of poor health outcomes (not limited to the above) and increased rates of mortality, there is a growing interest in the research community to study the long-term impact.

As a result, the link between mental health and inactivity has been under a microscope in recent years, and the findings have been grim. The relationship between sedentary lifestyles and conditions such as anxiety and depression (with, in and of themselves bring health complications), as well as suicidal thoughts, underscores the importance of understanding the various domains of SB.

The Impact of Reducing Sedentary Behavior (SB) on Mental Health
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

A new study, published in BMC Public Health, separated various SB into categories, including leisure-time SB (e.g., watching TV, using social media), transport-related SB (e.g., sitting in a car or bus), and occupational SB (e.g., sitting at work or school). Researchers then used preestablished tools like the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ), which measures the time individuals spend sitting in different contexts, to interview participants, asking questions about time spent sitting at work or school, during leisure activities, and while commuting. From there, they examine well-being and quality of life using the 12-item Short Form Survey (SF-12), revealing mental health has been greatly impacted by these behaviors.

Overall, the team discovered that all domains of SB negatively impact psychological well-being (PWB), general life satisfaction (GLS), and mental health components of quality of life (MCS-12). However, taking this one step further, they were able to determine that this impact varied across different age groups and individualized constructs. Specifically, the results indicated:

Ages 18-24. In young adults (18 to 24 years), leisure-time SB is particularly detrimental to psychological well-being, and screentime is largely to blame. Spending the majority of their time behind screens, social isolation and exposure to negative online content further exacerbate mental health issues.

At the same time, occupational SB did not seem to negatively impact the mental health of adolescents and young adults, which researchers figured was because many were still in educational settings with this learning environment viewed as healthy and productive.

Ages 25-64. In adults (25 to 64 years), on the other hand, occupational SB is strongly linked to lower life satisfaction. The physical discomfort and mental strain of sitting at desks all day has taken a toll on their mental health and overall well-being. Furthermore, transport-related SB negatively affects the psychological well-being of this group with the team surmising that adults would rather be doing other more fulfilling activities than spending time commuting to and from work.

In taking a closer look at the factors that contribute to the link between sedentary behavior and poor mental health, the team hopes their findings will provide more insight into specific domains to focus on, so not only policymakers and advocates, but the individuals themselves, can make changes to promote a more active lifestyle for each group and increase overall life satisfaction rates.


Associations between domains of sedentary behavior, well-being, and quality of life – a cross-sectional study

Sedentary behaviors and risk of depression: a meta-analysis of prospective studies

Association Between Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior With Depressive Symptoms Among US High School Students, 2019

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