Sedentary lifestyle and mental health

For decades we have heard about the benefits of exercise and physical activity on overall human health. However, we hear less about the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, the use of the word sedentary lifestyle is rare, which according to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy is defined as “the attitude of the person who leads a sedentary life”. So what do we mean by “sedentary life”? It refers to a job or lifestyle with little restlessness or movement.

Beyond definitions, it is clear that across the world and at all levels of society, there is a gradual increase in sedentary lifestyles, which has worsened with the pandemic that began in 2020. Regardless of smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, or having a family history of many diseases; People with a sedentary lifestyle are at a higher risk of developing diseases of the heart, kidneys, blood vessels and metabolism. A sedentary lifestyle causes a generalized inflammatory state that affects all organs of the human body, including the brain. Thus, people with this lifestyle have a higher risk of developing mental illnesses such as depression and dementia. For people with panic attacks, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, a sedentary lifestyle prevents an adequate response to treatment.

Fortunately, most of us know the antidote to a sedentary lifestyle, and that is physical exercise. However, unlike the exercise needed to lose weight or lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels; It turns out that with light and regular physical activity, the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle on mental health can be reduced.

According to an article published in JAMA Psychiatry in April this year by Dr Matthew Pearce and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge; activities between 1.5 and 3.0 METs are sufficient to reduce the risk of developing depression by up to 30% compared to the sedentary population. METs, or metabolic units, refer to the amount of oxygen consumed by our body when we sit without any physical activity. One metabolic unit or 1 MET equals 3.5 milliliters of oxygen per pound of body weight. Thus, 1.5 METs includes activities such as stretching exercises, up to 3 METs which include housework (eg, washing dishes), gardening, and slow walking.

Those who lead sedentary lifestyles, I urge you to consider the health risks you face and resolve to “beat the sedentary lifestyle”. For my part, and through my social networks (for example, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Discord, Linkedin) I launched a movement called “#projectDS” which means “Project, Defeat Sedentarism” with the intention to educate about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and create the space so that, from these networks, we increase the level of physical activity to overcome it.

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