Anxiety and Sedentary Lifestyles are Closely Linked

Having a sedentary lifestyle over an extended period of time saps both your spirits and your mental health. Indeed, this kind of lifestyle could lead to depressed and you just won't feel like doing anything. Furthermore, these levels of inactivity can actually be really dangerous.
Anxiety and Sedentary Lifestyles are Closely Linked
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

There’s a close link between anxiety and sedentary lifestyles. It’s been proven that, if you aren’t very active, you’re more likely to suffer anxiety. At the same time, if you suffer from anxiety, you’re less likely to want to engage in any physical activity.

Thus, it’s a bit of a vicious cycle. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that inactivity is a public health problem that affects more than half the population of the world. Moreover, it affects children as well as adults. In fact, it seems that both children and teens tend to lead quite sedentary lifestyles.

Without a doubt, the effects of these types of lifestyles can prove physically harmful. Arteriosclerosis, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension are just some of the risks to your physical health. However, you should also bear in mind that, when you’re not very active, this can also affect your mental health. This might lead to the development of certain other pathological disorders.

A depressed man.

Anxiety and sedentary lifestyles: a two-way relationship

When you’re anxious, you display a wide and complex variety of symptoms. These include depression, negative thoughts, irrational ideas, insomnia, and exhaustion. However, it isn’t really clear what triggers the psychological condition of anxiety. There might be multiple reasons: lifestyle, genetics, environmental factors, lack of coping strategies, etc.

It now seems that another reason can’t be ruled out: leading a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, research conducted at Deakin University (Australia) shows that continued physical inactivity make people more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. This affects both adults and children.

However, it seems that the problem might be even more complex. This is because, in reality, anxiety and sedentary lifestyles have a two-way relationship. For instance, if you don’t move all day, this can set off your anxiety. However, at the same time, your anxiety makes you less active. In fact, it seems that this is a widespread problem that needs to be publically addressed.

Sedentary lifestyles can seriously affect mental health

You’re living in a society that demands less and less from your body and more and more from your mind. However, when you hear the word “sedentary”, you probably think of a typical couch potato eating chips. This isn’t always the case, though. Because they might well be an executive, a scientist, or a business administrator leading a sedentary life but being highly productive at the same time.

Children and teens also demonstrate this. They spend so much time in front of screens, video games, or social networks like TikTok that they’re missing out on being active. This kind of lifestyle progressively undermines your mental health.

Anxiety physically and mentally immobilizes you

Anxiety and sedentary lifestyles feed back into each other. In fact, that’s the main problem. For example, it’s often recommended that, if you suffer from depression, you take up sport and generally become more active. However, people aren’t always able to manage this.

A study conducted at Anglia Ruskin University (UK) mentions the relationship between anxiety and sedentary lifestyles. In fact, the study stated that people with anxiety are twice more likely to lead a sedentary lifestyle. The study further concluded that it isn’t easy to tell someone with anxiety to start jogging, play tennis, or take up dancing or Zumba for the following reasons:

  • Anxiety leads to physical exhaustion, sensations of choking, and tachycardia. In fact, if you’re anxious, any effort can become just too much for you.
  • Beyond your physical symptoms, you’ll feel depressed and listless. Thus, you might start playing sports for a day or two and then quit.
  • Your mood disorders are attached to low motivation and constant frustration levels. Thus, as well as not wanting to move, you won’t see any point in doing so.

A jogger showing the link between anxiety and sedentary lifestyles.

How to manage anxiety and sedentary lifestyles

Anxiety and a sedentary lifestyle go hand in hand because they’re reflecting your current lifestyle. Reality has stopped moving due to new technologies and you’ve stopped moving along with it. You no longer ask anything from your body because your brain’s too exhausted dealing with the daily mental mazes you have to navigate through.

Worry wears you out. When your mind has reached its limit, you have no energy left for your body. What can you do then? Well, there’s a twofold strategy you can adopt. Firstly, you need to care for your body and, secondly, you need to motivate your mind. This way, your anxiety and sedentary way of life lose their power over you, and you’re able to optimize your quality of life. Here are some strategies:

Look after your mind

  • Practice good mental hygiene. Rationalize your concerns. Take control of negative thoughts and irrational ideas. Don’t feed your problems with anxieties. Instead, look for solutions.
  • Manage your emotions.
  • Give yourself moments of calm and silence. Allow your mind to relax.
  • Set daily goals that excite you.
  • Surround yourself with people who make you feel calm.
  • Search for new skills and passions to motivate your brain.

Look after your body

  • Exercise for 30 minutes a day.
  • Start to practice yoga, Pilates, or Zumba at home.
  • Find a friend you can play some kind of sport with every day or once a week.
  • Plan trips to the countryside or the beach where you can do some kind of physical activity. You need to make sure you combine your relaxation with some form of movement.
  • Finally, if you’re struggling to make changes, don’t hesitate to consult a professional. You mustn’t forget that the effects of a sedentary lifestyle can be really harmful to your health.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hearon, B. A., & Harrison, T. J. (2020). Not the exercise type? Personality traits and anxiety sensitivity as predictors of objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time. Journal of Health Psychology, 1359105320906242.
  • Wilson, K. E., & Dishman, R. K. (2015). Personality and physical activity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. En Personality and Individual Differences (Vol. 72, pp. 230-242).
  • Teychenne, M., Costigan, S.A. & Parker, K. The association between sedentary behaviour and risk of anxiety: a systematic review. BMC Public Health 15, 513 (2015).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.