Your Student Life: Sedentary Behavior

May 23, 2023

Anxiety is associated with sedentary behavior, according to a review of 31 studies (1).

They defined sedentary behavior as low levels of energy expenditure (1.0 to 1.5 of metabolic equivalent of task [MET]), usually occurring while sitting, during work or leisure activities, including screen behaviors (e.g., TV watching), hobbies (e.g., reading books), lying down, in transit, or during driving a car (1,2,3).

What was the study? (1)

The study authors (1) did a systematic review and found k = 31 original studies (total N = 99,192) and k = 17 (total N = 27,443) in a meta-analysis.

What were the results? (1)

The authors (1) concluded that higher levels of SB are associated with higher levels of anxiety symptoms. A separate systematic review found exercise as helpful for anxiety (7).

What is a reasonable amount of activity or how much should I exercise?

The recommended exercise or activity duration according to The Department of Health and Human Services’ “Physical activity guidelines for Americans” (5, 6):

  • For moderate intensity activity, 20 to 42 minutes a day (150minutes to 300 minutes per week).
  • For vigorous intensity activity, 10 to 21 minutes a day (75 to 150 minutes a week).

What are some examples of moderate and vigorous intensity activities (exercise)? (6)

  • Moderate-Intensity Activity
    • Walking briskly (2.5 miles per hour or faster)
    • Recreational swimming
    • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour on level terrain
    • Tennis (doubles)
    • Active forms of yoga such as Vinyasa or power yoga)
    • Ballroom or line dancing
    • General yard work and home repair work
    • Exercise classes like water aerobics
  • Vigorous Intensity Activities
    • Jogging or running
    • Swimming laps
    • Tennis (singles)
    • Vigorous dancing
    • Bicycling faster than 10 miles per hour
    • Jumping rope
    • Heavy yard work (digging or shoveling, with heart rate increases)
    • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
    • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
    • Exercise classes like vigorous step aerobics or kickboxing

What are some precautions?

  • It may be best to check with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s safe for you’re to start an exercise program.
  • Individuals with a history of disordered eating or disordered exercise should check with their health professional before exercising.
  • It may be wise to stop exercise and seek professional help if you notice:
    • Increased depression, disordered eating, and other mental health concerns due to exercise.
    • Injury, pain, or decreased motivation
    • Obsessive behaviors
    • Other symptoms.
  • Exercise may not help without proper nutrition, so it may be wise to learn about proper nutrition and proper exercise technique, and exercise/nutrition plans, before starting to exercise.
  • It may be helpful to gradually start exercising to give yourself time to adjust to an active lifestyle.
  • It might take weeks months or longer for some people to get used to and enjoy the minimum activity guidelines.
  • Occasional weeks without exercise or light activity may be important to prevent injury.
  • Figuring out what works best for you may give you lasting benefits.

Ryan Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Counseling and Consultation Service 
Office of Student Life  


  1. Stanczykiewicz, B., Banik, A., Knoll, N. et al. Sedentary behaviors and anxiety among children, adolescents and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Public Health 19, 459 (2019).
  2. Tremblay MS, Colley RC, Saunders TJ, Healy GN, Owen N. Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010;35(6):725–40.
  3. Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW. Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010;38(3):105–13.
  4. Pate RR, O’Neill JR, Lobelo F. The evolving definition of “sedentary”. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2008;36(4):1738.
  7. Stonerock, Gregory L. et al. “Exercise as Treatment for Anxiety: Systematic Review and Analysis.” Annals of behavioral medicine: a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine4 (2015): 542–556. PMC. Web. 9 May 2018.