Published: 07-05-2020 16:18 | Updated: 07-05-2020 16:23

“Seated office work may not be detrimental to mental health”

Seated office work and reading does not appear to be detrimental to mental health. Photo: Pixabay

Three questions to Mats Hallgren, assistant professor at the Department of Global Public Health, first author of several publications studying the effects of sedentary behaviour on mental health. Two related studies show that the context of these behaviours appears to be relevant.

Mats Hallgren, Department of Global Public Health. Photo: Private.

“Sedentary behaviour (too much sitting) is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. In a previous study, we showed that mentally-passive sedentary behaviours, such as TV-viewing, might increase the risk for depression, also after adjusting for other known risk factors.

In two related studies, we show that the context of these behaviours (that is, where they usually occur), is also relevant. Sedentary behaviour that occurs during leisure-time is detrimentally associated with depression and anxiety symptoms. Adults who spend more than 50% of their leisure-time sitting still, experience significantly more symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared to those who are less sedentary in that context. We also found that regularly interrupting sitting during leisure-time reduced the odds of poor mental health”.

By contrast, sedentary behaviour at work, in other words seated office work, reading, etc, does not appear to be detrimental to mental health. In an invited review article, we propose a novel approach to the classification and analysis of sedentary behaviours and describe the psychological and biological mechanisms which could explain these relationships.”

How can this new knowledge contribute to achieving better health for all?

“Public health agencies require updated information about the effects of physical activity and sedentary behaviour on both physical and mental health. Our research contributes new knowledge about the context of sedentary behaviours that could inform public health recommendations. The findings may also have  implications for the treatment of common psychiatric disorders, such as depression.”

How did you perform the studies?

“We conducted a series of observational studies using data from the Swedish Health Profile Assessment (HPA) database, a general health assessment offered to all employees working for companies or organizations connected to occupational and health services. Our latest analyses examined data from 40,550 employees (60% male, mean age=42 years), collected in 2017-2019. To better understand the underlying mechanisms, we propose to conduct experimental studies examining the effects of different sedentary behaviours on brain activity, blood flow, and mood”.

Data was supplied by Dr Gunnar Andersson and Peter Wallin from the Health Profile Institute. The research involves collaboration with the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH) and international sedentary behaviour experts, Professors Neville Owen and David Dunstan from the Baker Institute, Melbourne.


Associations of interruptions to leisure-time sedentary behaviour with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Hallgren M, Nguyen TT, Owen N, Vancampfort D, Smith L, Dunstan DW, et al
Transl Psychiatry 2020 May;10(1):128

Invited review article

Passive Versus Mentally Active Sedentary Behaviors and Depression.
Hallgren M, Dunstan DW, Owen N
Exerc Sport Sci Rev 2020 Jan;48(1):20-27

Previous study

Cross-sectional and prospective relationships of passive and mentally active sedentary behaviours and physical activity with depression.
Hallgren M, Nguyen TT, Owen N, Stubbs B, Vancampfort D, Lundin A, et al
Br J Psychiatry 2019 Mar;():1-7

News article about the study: Sitting less and moving more reduces risk of depression


Mats Hallgren Principal Researcher