Sedentary Lifestyle Associated With Increased Symptoms of Depression During Pandemic


A higher amount of time sitting was associated with increased symptoms of depression, according to a study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. The study was designed to assess how changes in activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic affected the mental health of participants.

“In March 2020, we knew COVID was going to affect our behavior and what we could do in lots of weird, funky ways that we couldn't predict,” said Jacob Meyer, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, in a press release. “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.”

The investigators surveyed 3000 participants from all 50 states who self-reported activities such as sitting, exercising, and screen time. Participants were also asked to compare their current rate of behavior to before the beginning of the pandemic, indicating changes to their mental wellbeing using standard clinical scales.

According to the study, participants who were meeting the US Physical Activity Guidelines (2.5 to 5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week) prior to the pandemic decreased their physical activity by 32% on average shortly after COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. Further, these same participants reported increases in feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. In a follow-up study, participants filled out the same survey each week between April and June 2020.

“In the second study, we found that, on average, people saw their mental health improve over the 8-week period,” Meyer said in the release. “People adjusted to life in the pandemic. But for people whose sitting times stayed high, their depressive symptoms, on average, didn't recover in the same way as everyone else's.”

The investigators emphasize that an association between time spent sitting and mental health is not the same as a causal link. Further, they noted it is possible that individuals who were more depressed sat more or that individuals who sat more became more depressed. Additionally, there may be other factors responsible for this connection that were left unaddressed by the study.

“It's certainly worthy of more investigation,” Meyer said in the release. “I think being aware of some of the subtle changes we've made during the pandemic and how they might be beneficial or detrimental is really important as we look to the other side of pandemic life.”


Sitting more linked to increased feelings of depression, anxiety [news release]. Science Daily; November 8, 2021. Accessed November 9, 2021.

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