A new study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity finds that when one partner is depressed, the other increases their sedentary behaviors and vice versa. This research reveals the potential negative impact partners can have on one another. Understanding this can help clinicians and individuals take steps to prevent the vicious cycle of depression and sedentary behaviors in partnerships.
The World Health Organization recommends avoiding too much sedentary time due to increased health risks, including cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer. Sedentary behavior can have mental health outcomes as well, such as higher anxiety and poorer quality of life.
According to evidence-based models, there is a link between depressive symptoms and sedentary time, which can make each other worse. Additionally, there are theoretical models that suggest a correlation between the health behaviors of two people in close relationships, such as romantic partners, close friends, or family members. One such model is the shared resources hypothesis, which proposes that romantic couples share a physical environment and social networks, leading to similar behaviors and moods.
The relationship between sedentary behavior and depressive symptoms is believed to worsen each other in a cyclical manner. While previous research has focused on the connection between sedentary behavior and depression within individuals, Maria Siwa and colleagues sought to examine how the sedentary behavior of one person in a partnership affects the depressive symptoms of their partner and vice versa; how one’s depression could affect the sedentary behavior of the other.
The study utilized 320 pairs of individuals (one focus person and their partner) who intended to increase their physical activity levels as a way of managing chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases or type-2 diabetes. The participants had to meet certain criteria, including being in a close relationship for at least half a year, having frequent face-to-face interactions, and expressing moderate intentions to engage in regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
The study was conducted over a period of 14 months and involved three measurements. The information for the study was gathered through one-on-one meetings, and the participants were identified through advertisements and health promotion events in Poland.
The findings revealed there is a significant correlation between sedentary behaviors and depressive symptoms in dyads over a period of 14 months. When the focus person was depressed, the partner became more sedentary and when the focus person was more sedentary, the partner became more depressed.
Additionally, the study found that sociodemographic factors did not alter these results. The research team said that shared social networks and physical environments may have contributed to the “dyadic convergence” of health behaviors and emotional responses.
The study also found as time passed the relationship between depressive symptoms and sedentary behaviors strengthened. This could be because the reduced social interactions with others caused a decline in the size of social support networks for both members of the dyad, which increased the risk of depression, especially in vulnerable individuals.
The studies findings should be interpreted through its limitations. These include the sample was not representative, as participants were highly educated and middle class. In addition, participants were not clinically diagnosed with depression, so often the reported symptoms were mild.
Nevertheless, the findings can help clinicians when developing plans to decrease sedentary behaviors and depressive symptoms, specifically in those who are at risk. Further studies could delve into the root causes of these connections and examine how social support and control techniques could alleviate the harmful impact of sedentary behaviors on mental health.
The study, “Associations between depressive symptoms and sedentary behaviors in dyads: Longitudinal crossover effects“, was authored by Maria Siwa, Ewa Kulis, Anna Banik, Zofia Szczuka, Monika Boberska, Dominika Wietrzykowska, Nina Knoll, Anita DeLongis, Barbel Knauper and Aleksandra Luszczynska.