By Lily Kangas
Published 5:44 EST, November 13th, 2021
Social media and sedentarism
As the world undergoes a cultural revolution towards technology, we see an increasing number of youth trading in their jump ropes and outdoor toys for the newest iPad or phone. While it can be argued that this shift is an inevitable result of our evolving society, we also must acknowledge why it is a problem. Today, federal guidelines recommend about 75 minutes of exercise each week, which only amounts to about 10-11 minutes per day. Despite this seemingly low benchmark, only about a quarter of people are reaching those 75 minutes (Ducharme, 1). In comparison, the average person spends a hefty 285 minutes on their phone or another cellular device per week (Zalani, 1). To make this worse, most of this screen time is spent while sitting or lounging because of the all-consuming nature of social media and technology.
How Can This Affect My Mental Health?
Now, you may be wondering, is having more screen time and less exercise really that much of an issue? To that, the answer would be an astounding yes. Not only can a sedentary lifestyle affect your physical health by increasing the risk of heart attack, obesity, and more, it can also be detrimental to your mental and emotional wellbeing. In a number of studies, researchers have identified a link between brain health and physical activity levels, specifically with depression and anxiety. In fact, sedentary adolescents have a ~10% higher chance of developing depressive symptoms before they become adults (Thomas, 1). This increased risk can be chalked up to an absence of feel-good hormones such as serotonin that one would typically receive during exercise. Regular physical activity has been shown to increase serotonin levels within the brain, and because many mental illnesses stem from a serotonin deficit, exercise is thought to be among the most effective methods to combat these mental disorders. Therefore, when we are allocating such a substantial amount of our time to screen use, a notoriously sedentary activity, and ignoring our physical health needs, we are essentially losing a key part of brain hormone stabilization. Additionally, both extensive social media use and lack of activity are often synonymous with staying indoors, meaning less exposure to sunlight and nature, which are also important in boosting serotonin and are needed to get adequate levels of vitamin D. In fact, conditions like seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and vitamin D deficiency both have substantial impacts on one’s psyche and both arise specifically as a result of lack of sunlight. Consequently, there is a higher prevalence of the condition in sedentary individuals (Danahy, 1).
What Can Be Done?
In society, we have created a system that encourages social media to use above even the most essential aspects of our health, such as exercise. When our health needs are ignored, we can see them reflected in our psyche. So, in order to reverse the harm you are inflicting on your brain, you need to focus on your health and evaluate how you are spending your time. If you find that your social media usage has become excessive, or you can feel your anxiety creeping in, maybe try jogging or going for a bike ride. Even replacing just ten minutes of screen time a day with gentle exercise will create a drastic difference in how you feel mentally, enabling you to lead a happier, healthier life.
Lily Kangas, Youth Medical Journal 2021
Csatari, Jeff. “What Can Happen To Your Body If You Don’t Exercise.” Eat This Not That, 8 Sept. 2020, http://www.eatthis.com/side-effects-not-exercising.
Florido, Roberta, et al. “Six-Year Changes in Physical Activity and the Risk of Incident Heart Failure.” Circulation, vol. 137, no. 20, 2018, pp. 2142–51. Crossref, doi:10.1161/circulationaha.117.030226.
Thomas, Liji. “A Sedentary Lifestyle Increases the Risk of Adolescent Depression.” News-Medical.Net, 12 Feb. 2020, http://www.news-medical.net/news/20200211/A-sedentary-lifestyle-increases-the-risk-of-adolescent-depression.aspx#:%7E:text=The%20findings&text=Correlating%20the%20physical%20activity%20with,time%20they%20entered%20early%20adulthood.
Ulery, Gina. “Seasonal Affective Disorder: Diet and Lifestyle Interventions.” Pdresources.Org, 19 Nov. 2015, blog.pdresources.org/seasonal-affective-disorder-diet-and-lifestyle-interventions.