Is Sitting Giving You Anxiety?

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New research published in the open-access journal BMC Public Health has found anxiety may be linked to something you are probably doing this very moment – sitting down.

“Anecdotally we are seeing an increase in anxiety symptoms in our modern society, which seems to parallel the increase in sedentary behavior,” said Megan Teychenne, lead researcher and lecturer at Deakin University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (C-PAN) in Australia.

“Thus, we were interested to see whether these two factors were, in fact, linked. Also, since research has shown positive associations between sedentary behavior and depressive symptoms, this was another foundation for further investigating the link between sedentary behavior and anxiety symptoms.”

For the study, the researchers examined the results of nine studies that explored the link between sedentary activities and anxiety.

The studies lacked a consensus on what constitutes “sedentary behavior”, including television viewing and computer use, and “total sitting time” which also included sitting while on transport and work-related sitting. Two of the studies also included children and adolescents, while the other seven studies were restricted to adults.

In five of the studies, increased sedentary behavior was linked with heightened risk of anxiety, and four studies showed an association between total sitting time and increased anxiety.

The link between screen time and anxiety was less pronounced, however one study did report that 36 percent of high school students who had more than two hours of screen time per day were more likely to experience anxiety compared to their peers with less than two hours each day.

The researchers believe the link between sedentary behavior and anxiety could be associated with disturbances in sleep patterns, social withdrawal theory, and poor metabolic health. Social withdrawal theory suggests prolonged sedentary behavior can lead to withdrawal from social relationships, which has been linked to increased anxiety.

The researchers conclude by noting more research is needed to confirm if anxiety is directly caused by sedentary behavior.

“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 (and) managing this illness,” Teychenne said.

“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.”

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