The first systematic review to examine the relationship between sedentary behaviour and anxiety has found that prolonged sitting, such as watching TV, working on a computer or playing electronic games, is linked to increased risk of anxiety in adults and children.
The study was published today in the open access journal BMC Public Health.
Dr Megan Teychenne from Deakin University's Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (C-PAN) and lead researcher on the study, said that anxiety is a common and growing problem, estimated to affect 27 million people worldwide.
"Anxiety is a debilitating illness affecting 14 per cent of Australian adults, but it's not just the everyday symptoms such as a racing heart and headaches that we get from our busy lives and financial pressures that we need to worry about."
"Anxiety has been linked to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, so we need to identify ways to reduce the risk of this serious illness, she said.
Dr Teychenne said an increase in anxiety symptoms in modern society, seemed to parallel the increase in the time we now spend sitting, so she was interested to see if the two were in fact linked.
Together with her colleagues she found that only nine studies have investigated the link between sitting time and anxiety risk, with seven focusing only on adults and two on children and adolescents.
In five of the nine studies, an increase in sedentary behaviour, or sitting, was found to be associated with an increased risk of anxiety. In four of the studies it was found that total sitting time was associated with increased risk of anxiety. The evidence about screen time (TV and computer use) was less strong, but one study did find that 36 per cent of high school students that had more than two hours of screen time were more likely to experience anxiety compared to those who had less than two hours.
"From the results we did find sitting was linked to increased risk of anxiety, so it is important for both adults and children to try and sit less during the day.
"Even if you go for a run after work, if you sit for long periods of the day at your desk, or tend to sit on the couch for long periods after school or work, then you might potentially be at higher risk of anxiety," she said.
Dr Teychenne said that while this a relatively untapped area of research and further studies are needed to help provide a clear picture of the link between sitting and the risk of anxiety, there are simple things that can break up your sitting time.
"If you work in an office job then stand up for a few minutes every hour and grab a glass of water, walk to the printer, or try a standing desk. Stand on public transport rather than sit and encourage the whole family to get up during ad breaks if you are watching TV.
"So start today, make some simple changes and stand up for the sake of your mental health," she said.
C-PAN's work in physical activity and nutrition is leading the world globally in numerous areas including research into disadvantaged communities, children's health and healthy ageing.