Sitting Around Too Much?

Sitting Around Too Much?

 Jim Windell

             The Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives. We don’t go out to eat in restaurants, we don’t attend concerts, the theater or sporting events. We wear masks and avoid hanging out with friends and family. One other thing that has changed for many Americans is doing more sitting.

            Like most people, I sit in front of my computer all day, sit glued to the screen during Zoom sessions, and for relaxation after the workday is over sit in front of the TV binge watching “must-see” shows. It is true I walk the dog in the morning and run on warm days. I even exercise by lifting weights and riding an exercise bike. But still, most of my awake hours involve prolonged sitting. And how healthy is that?

            Before the pandemic, the CDC estimated that American adults were sitting about eight hours a day. Since the pandemic, that average has gone up according to some experts as much as four to six hours a day.

           Of course, this is a problem. Excessive levels of sedentary behavior have been linked to greater risks of diabetes, heart disease, mortality and even some cancers. Perhaps even more important, according to Wuyou Sui and Harry Prapavessis, writing in The Conversation, an online opinion website. Wuyou Sui is a postdoctoral fellow at the Behavioral Medicine Lab, School of Exercise Science, Physical & Health Education, University of Victoria. Harry Prapavessis is Professor of Kinesiology at Western University in Ontario, Canada. They say that people’s judgments and feelings about their quality of life – this could be referred to as subjective well-being – may be more important and relevant for informing their health decisions and behaviors than potentially developing chronic diseases.

           Sui and Prapavessis contend that subjective well-being encompasses how an individual evaluates their quality of life and includes such things affect – positive and negative feelings – and life satisfaction. This suggests that how an individual feels about their own health may not always align with what their body may demonstrate. And that, the authors say, is why evaluating an individual’s subjective well-being is vital for painting a holistic picture of health.

           Sitting more, and long periods of inactivity, are associated with negative affect, however, there has been relatively little research examining the relationships between sedentary behavior and subjective well-being. Exploring these relationships is important, as different contexts of sitting – such as socializing versus screen time – may yield different feelings or judgments of subjective well-being. The relationship between actual physical health and sedentary behavior tend to be much more consistent.

           Sui and Prapavessis reviewed the scientific literature looking at the relationships between measures of sedentary behaviors, such as physical inactivity and screen time, and subjective well-being – as reflected by affect, life satisfaction and overall subjective well-being. This examination of the literature resulted in three main findings.

           The first finding was that sedentary behavior, physical inactivity and screen time demonstrated weak but statistically significant correlations with subjective well-being. Another way of putting this is that those people who reported sitting more often and spending longer periods with no physical activity reported lower positive affect, higher negative affect and lower life satisfaction than those who sat less and moved more.

           Their second finding was that different domains of sedentary behavior have unique relationships with subjective well-being. For instance, screen time was consistently and negatively associated with subjective well-being, but socializing, playing an instrument or reading actually demonstrated positive associations with subjective well-being. Another way of looking at this is that not all sedentary behavior is viewed by people as harmful to their health.

           The third main finding had to do with overall sitting and self-perceived levels of sedentary behavior. Although most studies found a weak statistically significant association between higher overall sedentary time and lower subjective well-being, in studies where participants were asked to compare their sedentary behavior to how much they normally sit, those who perceived themselves as more sedentary than usual reported significantly poorer subjective well-being.

           The upshot of the research by Sui and Prapavessis is that how much time you spend sitting may not be as important as how much time you are sitting compared to your usual level of sitting. This suggests that no matter what your level of inactivity is you will likely feel better if you do less sitting.

            The bottom line for you and your clients may be this: While we cannot eliminate a lot of sitting as we carry on our daily lives as the pandemic continues, we can keep in mind that increasing our physical activity and avoiding those types of sitting that causes our negative affect will help us not only be healthier but also feel better.

            To read original article in The Conversation, click here.


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