Researchers have long proven what happens to our physical bodies when we’re sedentary for periods of time. We gain weight, feel greater fatigue, and deal with more aches and pains. But now, two recent studies are shedding light on what happens to our mental health — such as our focus and moods — if we sit for longer intervals, especially during a difficult time like living through a pandemic.
What did researchers find about sedentary lifestyles and mental health?
While scientists have looked at the impacts of short-term leisure activities on the brain, there’s been far less research looking at what happens over time as the brain adjusts to an inactive lifestyle.
These experiments have become more and more important as we all try to figure out how our mental health and overall well-being may be suffering through this unprecedented pandemic, where many people have much more sedentary routines that don’t resemble what they were doing even a year ago.
One study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences looking at participants in Europe focused on what staying seated most of the day specifically in the pandemic did for people’s mental and physical health. In addition to physical decline, scientists noticed that participants also experienced increased moodiness and irritability but also began to show early signs of depression.
Meanwhile, a separate study that appeared just last month in the International Journal of Obesity found that overweight or obese adults who stayed sedentary actually saw serious signs of mental decline more quickly, including a lack of focus, decreased cognitive function, an uptick in general brain fog, and difficult mentally switching between basic tasks.
How can we reverse these side effects?
It may feel challenging to make a lifestyle change in the middle of the pandemic, particularly if you haven’t really been active for the past year, but it’s definitely worth it. Researchers concluded that even moderate walking a few times a week can start to reverse signs of brain fog, moodiness, mental illness, and more.
If you’re not able to go outside due to the season or the weather, there’s still good news: you still have plenty of options! You can still try gentle yoga, basic planks, and even this simple four-second workout. (Yes, you read that last suggestion correctly!)
And if you think you might be dealing with more than just some run-of-the-mill blues or your worsening mental health continues for more than a few months, it may be time to talk to your doctor. You never know what else might be going on!