Moving more and sitting less was a challenge for many of us even before states started issuing stay-at-home orders. Despite disruptions to our daily work and exercise routines, there are some subtle changes we can make at home to help improve our mental health, and one of them includes sleep.
Essentially, the research indicates that it’s better to either sleep or be active than sitting around all day. Specifically, it found that substituting prolonged sedentary time with sleep was associated with lower stress, better mood and lower body mass index (BMI), and substituting light physical activity was associated with improved mood and lower BMI across the next year.
Jacob Meyer, lead author and assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, says light activity can include walking around your home office while talking on the phone or standing while preparing dinner.
“People may not even think about some of these activities as physical activity,” Meyer said. “Light activity is much lower intensity than going to the gym or walking to work, but taking these steps to break up long periods of sitting may have an impact.”
Getting more sleep is another relatively simple change to make. Instead of staying up late watching TV, going to bed earlier and getting up at a consistent time provides multiple benefits and allows your body to recover, Meyer said. Sleeping is also unique in that it is time you’re not engaging in other potentially problematic behaviors, such as eating junk food while sitting in front of a screen.
Making these subtle changes was associated with better current mood, but light physical activity also provided benefits for up to a year, the study found. While the research was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Meyer says the results are timely given the growing mental health concerns during this time of physical distancing.
“With everything happening right now, this is one thing we can control or manage and it has the potential to help our mental health,” Meyer said.