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Covid-19: How Sitting More Increased Feelings of Anxiety & Depression

man sitting sad

Covid-19: How Sitting More Increased Feelings of Anxiety & Depression

We have always known that a sedentary lifestyle leads to poor physical health. But specific data regarding how it affects mental health wasn't available.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which necessitated a stay-at-home order, brought an abrupt change to lives all over the globe. For a considerable part of 2020, the Coronavirus outbreak turned daily commute into back-and-forth transitions between the bedroom and living room. Clicking Zoom links replaced driving to meeting venues, and hours of sitting down watching Netflix ate into gym time. In short, people were sitting more than they've ever had.


The Effect

A recent study published by an Iowa State University research team found people who sat more during the Covid-19 lockdown suffered higher symptoms of depression.


The Research

Jacob Meyer, assistant professor of kinesiology, led the research team that conducted the study on 3000 adults. As the director of the Wellbeing and Exercise Laboratory at ISU, Meyer typically studies how active and sedentary lifestyles impact mental health and influence behavior.

According to him, they knew Covid-19 was going to affect how people lived significantly. They knew the lockdown would cause people to become less active since they have now been denied the opportunity to interact with their world as they have done. How this was going to affect their mental health was yet to be seen.

To get a perfect picture of these changes, Meyer and his research team collected survey responses from over 3,000 study participants from every state in the US, including DC.

The participants kept track of and were asked how much time they spent sitting, using the Internet, watching videos, and exercising as compared to pre-pandemic times. They also reported how they'd experienced changes in feeling depressed, anxious, and lonely.

"We know when people's physical activity and screen time changes, that's related to their mental health in general, but we haven't really seen large population data like this in response to an abrupt change before," says Meyer.

For participants who have always met the US Physical Activity Guidelines (2.5-5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity weekly), the pandemic greatly reduced how much physical activity they could get. Their mental health also dropped, and they started feeling more depressed, anxious, and lonely.


Participants Who Sat More vs. Those Who Found Ways to Get More Active

There's something particularly interesting in all of this. Across the duration of the lockdown from April to June, Meyers survey responses showed that people's mental health improved as they adjusted to life amid the pandemic. They didn't feel as lonely and depressed as they felt at the onset of the lockdown once they found ways to cope.

But for people who continued sitting down for long periods, their depressive symptoms didn't recover as fast as everyone else's.

This is striking. It shows how something as seemingly trivial as sitting and moving can greatly influence our mental health.


"The acute effects of exercise, as soon as someone starts moving, are really powerful and in particular are really powerful for people who have high levels of depression or anxiety," Meyer says, "and so as soon as someone starts moving, even if it's just getting up and going for a walk, their neurobiology changes and the way that they feel starts to improve."


Even though you work from home, finding ways to incorporate movement into your day can be very beneficial to your mental and physical health.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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