Jacob Meyer (ISU photo)

Iowa State University research has found adults who spent a higher amount of time sitting during the early months of the pandemic were more likely to have higher symptoms of depression.

ISU kinesiology professor Jacob Meyer says a follow-up survey this fall found those effects lingered among study participants who tended to be inactive for longer periods of the day.

“Being a little bit more conscious of how much we sit and when we have to sit and when we don’t have to sit might be really important to our on-going mental health,” Meyer says.

Meyer is director of ISU’s Wellbeing and Exercise Laboratory. He led the research team that surveyed 3000 adults from all 50 states and the District of Columbia during April, May and June of last year, then did a follow-up survey this year. Meyer’s team asked study participants to keep track of how much time they spent exercising versus sitting and whether they’d experienced changes in feeling stressed, lonely, anxious or depressed. They were also asked if they were no longer enjoying things that used to bring joy or pleasure.

“That’s one piece that we can really not be aware of,” Meyer says. “As we’re not aware of it, it means we don’t necessarily know that our behavior could have actually have a really important impact on it if we don’t know that it’s there in the first place.”

Meyer says moving benefits our physical and mental health.

“The acute effects of exercise, as soon as someone starts moving, are really powerful and in particular are really powerful for people who have high levels of depression or anxiety,” Meyer says, “and so as soon as someone starts moving, even if it’s just getting up and going for a walk, their neurobiology changes and the way that they feel
starts to improve.”

Meyer joined the ISU faculty in 2017 and his research focuses on developing new treatment approaches that incorporate exercise in the treatment of depression.