You are how you sit. And if you're like the vast majority of Americans who sit upwards of 60 hours per week, how you're sitting could be significantly impacting your mood and energy levels.
Much research has been conducted on the negative side effects of a sedentary lifestyle, and studies show that sitting for long periods of time has been linked to increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, obesity and increased body fat around the waist, just to name a few.
In fact, a 2012 research paper out of San Francisco State University and published in the journal Biofeedback shows the posture we adopt each day may impact not only our bodies, but our mood. Erik Peper, a professor of health education at San Francisco State University, and colleagues found that the posture people assume when sitting affects their mood, energy and cognition.
In short, spending your days slumped in front of a computer screen can lower your mood and zap your energy.
Dr. Darren Gitelman, neurologist and senior medical director of the Advocate Memory Center at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., is not surprised by the connection Peper found between the mind and body.
"The concept of a connection or correspondence between our physical self and our emotional self is not a new one," says Dr. Gitelman. "Although this article refers specifically to posture, there are theories that our experience of emotions is grounded in physical sensations of our bodies."
The researchers examined how body posture while moving impacted subjective energy levels of 110 university students. These students rated their energy level and were then told to walk with a slouched posture or to use the typical walking pattern of opposite arm and leg skipping. After a few minutes, students rated their subjective energy level again and then walked in the opposite position for several more minutes before rating themselves for a final time.
By changing posture, students could increase or decrease their subjective energy levels. Participants experienced a decrease in their subjective energy after slouched walking, and those who had the highest self-rated depression scores felt an even greater decrease in their energy after slouching.
Although this study looked at posture while moving, Dr. Gitelman says the theory proposed in Peper's study suggests that the emotional areas of our brain learn to associate between low mood and stooped posture. Once that connection is made, the association can go both ways -- low mood results in stooped posture, and stooped posture leads to low mood. However, developing this association doesn't mean that every time you slump in your seat, your mood will go down.
"This is not a rigid association in the sense that we don't have to be stooped over when we are depressed, just that it is more likely. Similarly, standing with good posture may help lighten our mood, but often won't resolve a significant depression," says Dr. Gitelman. However, the findings reinforce the concept that enhancing our physical activity may benefit our bodies, our moods and our minds."