“We are exploring the idea that getting up and moving more helps to reduce inflammation in the body, which can benefit both physical and mental health,” Professor David Dunstan said

By Ian Horswill

Posted on May 8, 2020

Working from home (WFH) during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has become the norm for most workers.

It is possible that WFH may be with many of us for a long time to come, perhaps for ever, if workplaces adopt social distancing and reduce the number of tables and ban hot desking. You may be sitting down for eight hours or even more working at home and then sitting down for more hours watching shows.

WFH, exercise, physical, mental

New research, published in Translational Psychiatry, is showing that sitting down for prolonged periods is not good for people’s physical condition and also not good for their mental state. The research looked at the time people spent watching television and the amount of time people are sitting down as they WFH.

Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and international collaborators has examined data from more than 40,000 people in Sweden to show for the first time that breaking the sedentary position isn’t just good for reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease, but may also reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.

Study co-author and Head of Physical Activity research at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Professor David Dunstan, said that the mechanisms driving both physical and mental health benefits could be the same.

“We are exploring the idea that getting up and moving more helps to reduce inflammation in the body, which can benefit both physical and mental health,” Prof Dunstan said.

“Blood flow is likely to increase and your body becomes more efficient at delivering glucose to the brain.”

Compared to those who never or rarely interrupted their sitting time, those who reported at least some interruptions had a lower risk of experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms. Those who indicated that they interrupted their sitting ‘very often’ reported half the rate of depression and anxiety symptoms, the study found.

The study found those who spend 75% or more of their leisure time seated are three times more likely to experience frequent symptoms of depression or anxiety compared to those who are sedentary for less than a quarter of their non-working time. Add in the hours of WFH and the situation is almost certainly exacerbated.

Those who regularly interrupt their sitting also report half the rate of frequent mental illness symptoms compared to those who rarely take breaks.

If you add in the time people are in a WFH situation, spending hours sitting at home in front of a PC or laptop, only exacerbates the problem.

To optimise mental health benefits, Prof Dunstan said:

  1. Get up during ad breaks or set reminders during streaming to introduce walking breaks or some brief exercises to get the muscles moving. A good guide is to break up sitting time every half hour;
  2. Swap some mentally passive sedentary activities with more mentally active ones – try reading or playing a game, instead of just watching TV;
  3. Do household tasks such as cooking, ironing or cleaning while watching TV so it isn’t always sedentary and requires some cognitive engagement; and
  4. Make a conscious effort to incorporate exercise into your day to break up large amounts of mentally-passive sedentary activities.