During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us took our jobs home with us, causing an explosion of remote work that persists years later. While many individuals were already living a sedentary lifestyle in the office, studies show that it worsened over the course of the pandemic along with a profound increase in depression and anxiety.1
Read on to find out how a sedentary lifestyle affects the bodies of children and adults, why remote work anxiety occurs, and what you can do to add more physical activity to your day.
How Sitting for Long Periods of Time Affects the Body
Sitting for long periods of time is associated with a number of health concerns in children and adults, including obesity and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Find out more about the potential health issues of leading a sedentary lifestyle below.
On average, children sit for eight to 10 hours a day globally.2 This could spell trouble for their long-term health, as sedentary behavior in children has been linked to psychosocial issues, such as being overweight, depression, and sleep problems. Even more troubling, one study of seven to ten year old girls found that a single session of prolonged inactivity led to changes in their blood flow and arteries. These physical symptoms would signal the beginning of serious cardiovascular issues in adults.3
According to the Mayo Clinic, health concerns of prolonged sitting include obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.4 Their research also shows that people who sit for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity have a risk of dying similar to that posed by obesity and smoking.
Even more, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to immediate health issues. The physical symptoms of sitting too long include neck and back pain, discomfort in wrists and hands, and eye strain, which can cause more serious complications down the line.
Does Sitting at Your Desk All Day Increase Anxiety?
If you’ve ever felt anxious after a long work day in front of a computer or even after a few hours of binging a TV show, you’re not alone. Studies indicate that prolonged sitting, especially when using screen-based entertainment like smartphones and TV, may lead to sleep disruption or an arousal of the central nervous system, ultimately leading to an increase in anxiety symptoms.5 Other reasons why you may feel more anxious after sitting too long, especially if it has become a habit, is prolonged isolation. And as mentioned above, the physical symptoms associated with a sedentary lifestyle can also exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
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What is an Appropriate Amount of Time to Sit?
While sitting for more than eight hours a day is associated with a number of physical and mental health issues, researchers say such issues are not as apparent with four hours of sitting.6 However, other studies have found that sitting for just two uninterrupted hours had a negative impact on mental state and creative problem-solving abilities.7
At the bare minimum, you should get up and move (or even stand) at least once every hour to break up the monotony of prolonged sitting.
Tips to Increasing Physical Activity During Workdays & Decreasing Anxiety
You may not be able to change your workday hours, but you can make tweaks to your day to reduce prolonged sitting and lower your risk of developing physical & mental health issues.
Build More Walking Breaks into Your Schedule
According to one small study, just five minutes of light walking for every 30 minutes of sitting can help offset the harm.8 This can be as easy as walking up a few flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator, taking a stroll around the block, or doing some housework if you work remotely. Other studies have found a link between walking and improved mental health.9
Be Active at Work & at Home
The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week to lower the risk of some health conditions associated with a sedentary lifestyle.10 Can you squeeze some gym time into your lunch break or schedule a session before work? Or, maybe pick up the speed of your next walking break to increase your heart rate and meet your physical activity quota. Remember, being active doesn’t have to necessarily mean hitting the gym or sweating it out on a long-distance run. You’re more likely to stick with something you enjoy, which might be as daring as rock climbing or as fun as dancing.
Look Away from Your Screen & Stand Up Every 20 Minutes
If you have a strict deadline and can’t step away from your desk for too long, at least get up and stand. While a sitting-standing desk is a great idea, you should also try to look away from your screen to also give your eyes a break. Set a timer to go off every 20 minutes to make this a habit.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, meditating is another tool you can use to feel calmer and more present in your body. In fact, some research shows that mindfulness meditation is just as effective as prescription drugs for anxiety.11 And good news if you’re hoping to combine meditation with movement. Yoga, tai chi, and even a mindful walk can all induce a meditative state.
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