You probably already know that sitting all day is bad for your physical health. Did you also know it’s negatively affecting your mental health?

Our modern lives are conducive to inactivity.

Perhaps you work sitting all day in front of a computer, or you may be a student who studies and completes assignments for hours at your desk after sitting through classes most of the day. In your leisure time, you might spend more time sitting while watching movies or shows, online checking socials, or playing digital games.

It’s hard to avoid sitting for long periods of time.

Your body doesn’t like being idle — neither does your brain. If sitting most of the day is your everyday reality (like me), here are some things you need to know about how it’s affecting your mental health.

Your Brain Needs You to Move Your Body

The relationship between physical activity and mental health is complex, but the two are definitely intricately intertwined. Your brain needs you to move your body to stay healthy. There are several reasons why movement is crucial for maintaining good mental health:

  1. Neurotransmitter Release: Exercise stimulates the release of neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, endocannabinoids, serotonin, and dopamine. These chemicals play a key role in regulating mood, reducing stress, and promoting a sense of well-being.
  2. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF): Physical activity increases BDNF, a protein that supports the growth and maintenance of neurons in the brain. Higher levels of BDNF are linked to improved mood and cognitive function.
  3. Cortisol Regulation: Exercise helps regulate cortisol, the stress hormone. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels have been associated with many mental health issues. Regular physical activity is one of the best ways to prevent and counter the damaging effects of stress on your brain and to keep cortisol levels in check.
  4. Improved Sleep: Regular exercise improves the quality of sleep. Adequate and restful sleep is essential for cognitive function, emotional well-being, and overall mental health.
  5. Cognitive Function: Physical activity has positive effects on cognitive function, including attention, memory, and problem-solving skills. It increases the oxygen supply to your brain and promotes neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and reorganize itself, which is crucial for learning and developing and forming memories.
  6. Reduced Inflammation: Chronic inflammation has been linked to various mental health conditions, including depression. Regular exercise has anti-inflammatory effects on the body, potentially reducing the risk of inflammation-related mental health issues.
boy sitting on couch tv remote in hand

Importance of Active Lifestyle to Mental Health

If it was a pill, exercise would be prescribed for almost every ailment known to mankind. It’s that beneficial. It’s common knowledge that physical movement has unparalleled power to improve a person’s physical health. We now also know that, because your body and mind are integrally connected, it’s also excellent for your brain and, in turn, your mental health.

Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the chances of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death.

The bottom line is your brain needs you to move your body to stay healthy. The science is abundant and overwhelmingly clear that exercise improves many facets of brain and mental health. Extensive sitting undermines your emotional well-being. Due to inactivity, you can experience more stress and other mental health conditions, such as:

Depressive Disorders

Studies show that different symptoms of depression were associated with lower levels of physical activity. Another study found that people with a low frequency of vigorous physical activities correlate to being diagnosed with depression. These findings show that long periods of inactivity affect how you think and feel and, in turn, your mental health.

Another study of nearly 9,000 women in their fifties found that those who sat for seven hours per day—and were physically inactive—were three times as likely to have symptoms of depression than individuals who sat for fewer than four hours and got the recommended amount of daily physical activity. The relationship between depression and sitting may be a two-way street: Depression saps people’s energy and motivation to move, and sitting a lot may make depression worse.

Anxiety Disorders

Whenever you face a stressful situation, you might become anxious about the possible outcomes or the future scenarios following it. However, anxiety is different from just feeling anxious or nervous about a single event. Over time, it can become a consistent default brain wave pattern. Although many factors contribute to developing the condition of anxiety, including genetics, psychological, environmental, and developmental, studies show that lack of physical movement also contributes to anxiety.

Due to inactivity, people tend to have fewer physical interactions with others. Humans are social animals who need contact with other humans. Much of our development and happiness depend on interactions with other people. Your brain needs it. Feeling inactive and isolated can put your brain in a state of low-grade chronic stress with negative physical and mental consequences. People, especially youth, who feel like they are not part of a social group, are at a higher risk for mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.

Ways to Avoid Negative Impacts of Sitting All Day

Fortunately, the level of physical activity required to get brain benefits is not that high. It might surprise you to learn that something as simple as walking has significant health benefits. And it doesn’t even have to be power walking. Just a 30-minute walk can have a positive impact on your brain. Even strength training has lasting cognitive benefits.

woman walking with her dog in the woods

I would encourage you not to feel like you have to do strenuous exercise — unless you want to, of course. You don’t have to go to the gym, wear special clothes, or use certain equipment. Just move. Gardening, dancing, vacuuming, climbing the stairs — it all counts. Here are some effective suggestions to incorporate more movement into your daily routine to avoid the negative effects of sitting all day.

Incorporate Standing Sessions

When you’re focused on a task slumped over a computer, you probably forget that you haven’t stood up since you sat down. It’s essential to stand up and move around periodically. To help you remember to do this, you can set an alarm for every 30 minutes. Or you can do like me. I drink enough coffee and water throughout the day that I can’t sit still much longer than 20 minutes.

The science says that you want to aim for moving three minutes every 30 – 60 minutes of sitting. Read standing up. Take a stretch break. Walk in place while you work. I do modified jumping jacks or jog in place while my coffee reheats in the microwave. I even have little hand weights always near my work area — so I can stand up and do a few reps.

Invest in a Standing Desk

A standing desk or a keyboard and screen that raise and lower are excellent options for someone who works on a computer all day. Healthier more ergonomic desk options are readily available and, many times, an organization will happily provide them, if asked. Aside from being an ideal solution to avoid sitting down all day while working or studying, standing work accommodations can prevent knee and leg issues, improve your posture, and reduce back pain. Because they increase movement, it might even boost your mood or productivity while working.

Establish a Workout Routine

To maintain an active life, try establishing a regular workout routine. Besides improving your physical health, movement promotes better blood circulation, which means more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to your brain. The enhanced blood flow supports brain health and function in many ways including improved mental health. Regular exercise also helps relieve stress, boost mental clarity, and improve a better mood.


The bottom line here is that while sitting for long periods throughout the day is oftentimes unavoidable, there are ways you incorporate physical activity into your routine to counter the negative health consequences. At Grey Matters, we are passionate about helping people live their best lives, including optimizing their brain’s health and function. Give us a call at (317) 215-7208 or send us a message today to talk about how we can help you.

Top image source: Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Second image source: By geargodz

Third image source: By Mat Hayward