Stop COVID-19 tele bingeing … your body and mind depend on it

TV binges aren’t good for our mental health. A new study shows we can halve the negative impacts by getting up off the couch more often.

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Get moving, people

The new study from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and international collaborators has examined data from more than 40,000 people, to show for the first time that breaking up sedentary leisure time isn’t just good for reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease, but may also reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.

Study co-author and Head of Physical Activity research at the Baker Institute, Professor David Dunstan says the mechanisms driving both physical and mental health benefits could be the same.

“We are exploring the idea that getting up and moving more helps to reduce inflammation in the body, which can benefit both physical and mental health,” Professor Dunstan said.

“Blood flow is likely to increase and your body becomes more efficient at delivering glucose to the brain.”

Data came from 40,550 Swedish workers between 2017 and 2019, reporting their actions and any depression or anxiety symptoms.

Compared to those who never or rarely interrupted their sitting time, those who reported at least some interruptions had a lower risk of experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms.

Those who indicated that they interrupted their sitting ‘very often’ reported half the rate of depression and anxiety symptoms.

Tips for getting up

The best way to beat ‘bingeing blues’ was to stand up and move after every 30 minutes of sitting. 

This can be as simple as just standing up from the chair or couch, but ideally involve simple resistance activities like half squats, arm or back stretches, or a brief walk — even just a few steps.

The average Australian adult spends about nine hours per day sitting, a significant proportion of which is done during leisure time and in front of the TV.

“The changing landscape of TV consumption, with the trend towards streaming services and away from free-to-air channels with ad breaks, also means the average viewer has even fewer prompts to get up off the couch and a never ending supply of content to keep them there,” Professor Dunstan said.

To optimise mental health benefits:

  • Get up during ad breaks or set reminders during streaming to introduce walking breaks or some brief exercises to get the muscles moving. A good guide is to break up sitting time every half hour.

  • Swap some mentally passive sedentary activities with more mentally active ones – try reading or playing a game, instead of just watching TV.

  • Do household tasks such as cooking, ironing or cleaning while watching TV so it isn’t always sedentary and requires some cognitive engagement.

  • Make a conscious effort to incorporate exercise into your day to break up large amounts of mentally-passive sedentary activities.

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