Sedentary behavior and stress: how movement affects your mood.


We’ve all experience these: seemingly impossible deadlines, packed schedules, all leading to an inability to fit in a workout. We become one giant ball of stress ready to explode like a packed keg with a fuse the size of the tip of a pencil. Over time we find ourselves over stressed, and feeling down.

There have been quite a few population-based studies asking questions about sedentary behavior and mood there have been few studies looking at how inactivity chemically affects mood until now. Romano Endrighi, Andrew Steptoe, and Mark Hamer led a study in which forty three people were studied over the span of a month. The subjects asked to reduce their daily activity level by thirty two minutes every day for two weeks and then subjected to a few tests which included mood questionnaires, problem solving quizzes, and public speaking. Samples of blood and saliva were taken to measure inflammatory signals and cortisol levels. After analysis, the group found that reducing daily activity led to increased feelings of anxiety, depression, confusion, anger, and generally a more negative outlook. One of the unique results from this study is the direct relationship between stress and the release of the pro-inflammatory chemical IL-6 in the blood. When released into the blood, IL-6 worsens diseases, causes tissue damage, and fevers. These chemicals have also been linked to depression and mood disorders.  They did, however have some issues with the sensitivity of their study; this was mostly due to the shorter duration of their protocol and periods in which they took blood and saliva samples from the participants so the research continues. Ultimately what their research is telling us is that lack of movement and high stress situations are the perfect storm when it comes to getting sick, and increases the potential for chronic health conditions.

Our bodies have an intricate relationship with movement. Science is showing that activity is hard encoded in our bodies and that a person cannot separate their minds from their bodies. Raising the heart rate isn’t just a way of getting fitter it allows us to reduce stress, reduce the probability and severity of diseases, and improve mood. It’s not about finding time for fitness but about scheduling it in and keeping it interesting.


Romano Endrighi, Andrew Steptoe, and Mark Hamer, The Effect of Experimentally Induced Sedentariness on Mood and Psychobiological Response to Mental Stress. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2015. Accessed August 31, 2015. 

About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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