Cha Pornea for NPR
Of all the ways in which the pandemic has affected Americans’ well-being, perhaps the one we’ve noticed least is how much we’re sitting. And it’s not just bad for our waistlines — it’s hurting our mental health.
More than a year and a half of social distancing and work-from-home policies have led to less time moving around and more time sitting and looking at screens — it’s a potentially toxic combination that’s linked with poorer mental health.
“The sneaky effects of the pandemic that we might not even notice [is] that we’ve changed our sitting patterns,” says Jacob Meyer, director of the Wellbeing and Exercise lab at Iowa State University.
His own research showed that in the early weeks of the pandemic, people who exercised less and had more screen time were likely to be stressed, depressed and lonely.
And though most people saw their mental health gradually improve as they adapted to a new reality, people who stayed mostly sedentary didn’t see get the same improvement, according to a follow-up study by Meyer. “People who continued to have really high levels of sitting, their depression didn’t improve” as much, says Meyer.
The good news is that something as simple as some very light movement around the house to break up all that couch surfing time can make a difference in mood, as Meyer’s earlier research has found.
Scores of previous studies confirm that being physically active boosts mood, lowers anxiety and improves sleep quality.
“We know consistently that the more people are active, the more that they exercise, the better their mental health is,” says Meyer.
For many office workers like me, working from home means we’ve fallen into a routine of spending hours at our desk. With another pandemic winter about to hit us and much of the country and the world still dealing with COVID-19, we are often stuck at home more than we’d like, so it’s time to start sitting less and moving around more.
Meyer and other exercise experts shared some tips