Contact: Keith Diaz, Ph.D.
For Release: Immediately
Lots of sitting is known to endanger health: The more time people spend sitting, the greater their risk of early death. And the bad news is, U.S. adults now spend a whopping 11 to 12 hours a day sitting.
Researchers have speculated that people sit in front of the TV for hours or obsess on Facebook to relieve stress and improve their mood. Could “couch potato” indulgence resemble the short-term pleasures of smoking, drinking or luscious desserts– a welcome escape from stress?
That sounds likely, but a novel study suggests stress per se doesn’t prompt increased sedentary behavior. The cause of that stress is key. Arguments with other people and work-related stress if you don’t feel much control over your life are linked to longer time spent sitting or lying around. The new findings come from a study of 79 adults followed for 365 days by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center. It’s published online and will appear in a forthcoming issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, journal of the American Psychosomatic Society.
To see how stress affected sedentary behavior, the researchers gave all participants a wrist Fitbit that tracks activity and asked them to wear it for a year. Every day they were sent text messages asking them about their stress levels and the types of things that were giving them stress. At the end of every day, they provided a summary rating of how stressed they felt during that day.
The end-of-day stress reports showed no overall link with how much time people spent sitting or lying down, says study author Keith Diaz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Behavioral Medicine. But stress prompted by arguments with other people was associated with significantly increased sedentary time. So was work-related stress for people who had a low sense of mastery on a survey that evaluated how much control they felt over their lives.
The argument link doesn’t surprise Diaz. “With this interpersonal unpleasantness, people are upset and just looking for a way to bring on a better mood. They may want to socially withdraw or forget about their conflict, and so they turn to watching TV or engaging in social media to escape their stress.”
As for the work-related stress of those who don’t feel much control over their lives, they, too, may feel the need to dive into escapist and isolating pursuits that land them on the sofa or in front of their computers. On the other hand, adults who have lots of personal control may also enjoy more flexibility to get away from sources of stress at work, he speculates; in fact, they might take the stress as a welcome challenge—and go out for a game of tennis or an invigorating workout afterwards, which lowers their time sitting around.
“We know that just a 10-minute walk can boost someone’s mood,” notes Diaz. “The takehome message here is that when you feel stressed and are inclined to sit in front of Netflix and just veg out for hours, try another strategy. Even gardening or getting up and doing household chores, seeing friends, anything that gets you up and moving is better than sitting around for hours.”
Faculty web page: https://www.columbiacardiology.org/profile/keith-diaz-phd
The American Psychosomatic Society (APS) (http://www.psychosomatic.org), founded in 1943, is an international multidisciplinary academic society that organizes an annual scientific meeting and educational programs. Psychosomatic Medicine is its scientific journal. The membership of over 700 is composed of academic scientists and clinicians in medicine, psychiatry, epidemiology, health psychology and allied health services. The mission of the APS is “to advance and integrate the scientific study of biological, psychological, behavioral and social factors in health and disease.”