The adverse health effects associated with sedentary lifestyles are pretty well documented. Short-term outcomes include anxiety, persisting migraines, and depression.
Over time, prolonged inactivity can lead to chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even various forms of cancer. Avoiding comorbidities caused by habitual sedentary behavior is not a black and white process.Which is to say there are healthier ways to go about doing nothing.
According to new research, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, substituting prolonged sedentary time with a nap is associated with lower stress, improved mood, and a lower body mass index (BMI).
When individuals swapped sedentary time with light physical activity they sustained the benefits listed above for an even longer period of time.
“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,” explained Jacob Meyer, lead author and assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University. “Light activity can include walking around your home office while talking on the phone or standing while preparing dinner. “People may not even think about some of these activities as physical activity. “With everything happening right now, this is one thing we can control or manage and it has the potential to help our mental health.”
Walk don’t run
The researchers supported their thesis with data collected in the Energy Balance Study from the University of South Carolina.
Participants between the ages of 21 and 35 were fitted with armband devices that objectively measured their energy expenditure, the quantity of sleep, physical activity, and sedentary time for ten days.
Subjects who slept instead of merely sitting around evidenced improved moods and significantly decreased their risk of developing obesity. The same was doubly true for those who achieved light to moderate physical activity in place of sedentary time.
“Moving more and sitting less was a challenge for many of us, even before states started issuing stay-at-home orders. Despite disruptions to our daily work and exercise routines, there are some subtle changes we can make at home to help improve our mental health,” the authors wrote in the new paper.
The health improvements induced by exercise are self-explanatory however, there are a few potential reasons why nappers enjoyed similar benefits.
A sedentary lifestyle is rarely just that, but inactivity coupled with other unhealthy habits like surfing the web for hours on end or consuming processed snacks.
With shelter in place mandates still in order, methods of maintaining a healthy body weight have become somewhat limited. Many of our daily commutes are no longer a part of our schedules, our local gyms have shut down, and recreational fitness centers are beset by reservations and health restrictions.
A confluence of isolation and immobility weighs on all of our biological systems, making us feel fatigued more often than we used to, and increasing our cravings for salty and sugary nonsense late at night.
With or without a pandemic, adjusting to a healthy lifestyle follows gradual tweaks to poor conditioned habits.
“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,” Meyers continued. “Getting more sleep is another relatively simple change to make. Instead of staying up late watching TV, going to bed earlier and getting up at a consistent time provides multiple benefits and allows your body to recover, Sleeping is also unique in that it is time you’re not engaging in other potentially problematic behaviors, such as eating junk food while sitting in front of a screen.”
CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org