Whenever we go to the doctor and describe feeling a bit down or low, the first suggestion they usually make is getting outside in the fresh air for a bit of exercise. After all, there’s nothing quite as good at lifting your mood as an invigorating walk.
But this week, new research has revealed that living a sedentary lifestyle could actually be responsible for poor mental health.
The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal and led by University College London, found teenagers who spent long periods sitting down each day had an increased risk of developing depression – and simply adding 60 minutes of light activity to their daily routine could counteract the effect.
Although the researchers looked at teenagers (who, let’s face it, are notorious for sleeping too much at the best of times), the results should give us all pause for thought. Walking is the cheapest and easiest form of exercise, and most of us don’t rack up nearly enough steps each day.
Whether it’s our job or leisure activities, so much of our time is now spent sitting down, and often the only part of us that really gets any exercise is our thumbs and fingers while scrolling through our mobile phones.
We might not be able to change what we do for a living, but if we are going to be sitting down for seven or eight hours a day behind a computer screen, employers need to start thinking about the implications for our physical and mental wellbeing.
There are already some great initiatives from employers which bring fitness into the workplace.
For example, when Glasgow’s largest office building opens next year, it will have a running track on the roof. Now, there is an employer who understands the importance of exercise to keep staff active and happy.
I’ve also seen some great clips of Chinese and Japanese schools and factories, where the bosses create amazing, fun dance and aerobic routines, which everybody does together to get fit and create a sense of belonging and teamwork.
Maybe exercise needs to become compulsory in our offices and our educational establishments – why not replicate the Daily Mile, which sees nursery and school children run, walk, jog or skip for 15 minutes every day? With no fancy equipment required, anyone can pull on a pair of trainers and get moving.
If we can all make exercise part of our daily routine, whether walking to work or popping out on our lunch hour for a quick bit of exercise, it could really lift our spirits.