Research — 08 December 2014

Employees who sit for long periods of time are at greater risk for psychological distress, according to an Australian study published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity.

Specifically, employees who reported sitting for longer than six hours per day had higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to those who sat for less than three hours a day.

Furthermore, going to the gym after work doesn’t appear to protect workers from the effects of prolonged sitting. When study participants were sedentary for most of the work day, even if they were physically active and getting exercise outside of work, they still showed relatively higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms than did workers who sat for less than three hours a day.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 3,367 state government employees as part of a broader health outreach program.blogging-336375_1280

Participants were asked to fill out a short psychological assessment on their symptoms of anxiety and depression during the last four weeks. They were also asked to rate their current levels of physical activity, leisure-time activity, and general satisfaction with the workplace.

The results showed a significant relationship between rates of psychological distress and sitting. Employees who reported sitting for longer than six hours per day had increased prevalence of moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to those who reported sitting for less than three hours a day.

There were also differences based on gender, with women reporting higher rates of sitting-related psychological distress than men. On average, male workers reported sitting for nearly five hours a day while women reported sitting for about four hours per day.

“Since men and women in our sample reported similar estimations of work stress, unmeasured factors such as work-family conflict and incorporation of work and parenting roles could be differentially affecting women,” writes psychological scientist Michelle Kilpatrick, Ph.D., of the University of Tasmania and colleagues in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity.

“Consequently, individuals may be meeting recommended levels of health promoting physical activity, yet their physical and mental health may remain at risk if they are also sedentary for prolonged periods,” writes Kilpatrick.

Previous research has shown a link between prolonged sitting and a number of serious health issues ranging from Type II diabetes to heart disease. Although there was a strong association between long-term sitting at work and moderate levels of psychological distress, sitting was not associated with extreme levels of anxiety and depression.

This article first appeared on ‘Psych Central’ on 6 December 2014.


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