Replacing sedentary behaviours with light activity or even sleep improves mood, new research finds.
People who routinely switch to walking around or sleeping from sitting down experience less stress, better mood and even lose weight.
The key is to make small changes that are sustainable.
Light exercise can include walking from one room to another or even standing while cooking or talking on the phone.
Practically any light activity that does not involve sitting down is better than being on the couch.
Another example is going to bed a little earlier instead of staying up late watching television.
Being asleep also means there is less time to snack, worry or engage in other problematic behaviours.
Dr Jacob Meyer, the study’s first author, said:
“People may not even think about some of these activities as physical activity.
Light activity is much lower intensity than going to the gym or walking to work, but taking these steps to break up long periods of sitting may have an impact.”
The study tracked 423 people over 10 days by giving them an armband that measured their energy expenditure.
While sleep or light activity were preferable to sitting down, more vigorous activity was even better for weight loss.
Even light activity showed benefits to people’s mood for at least one year afterwards.
Dr Meyer said small changes are vital:
“It may be easier for people to change their behavior if they feel it’s doable and doesn’t require a major change.
Replacing sedentary time with housework or other light activities is something they may be able to do more consistently than going for an hour-long run.”
The study was conducted before the current pandemic, although the researchers have data showing that physical activity has reduced by 32 percent during lockdown.
Dr Meyer said:
“With everything happening right now, this is one thing we can control or manage and it has the potential to help our mental health.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Meyer et al., 2020).