Does Sitting Harm Your Brain?


You may have heard that sitting can be detrimental to your health – that sitting for extended periods of time has been linked to health concerns such as obesity and high blood sugar, and increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. If those aren’t good enough reasons for you to get up and move, maybe this will be: sitting can be bad for your brain as well.

One effect that too much sitting can have on the brain is by changing a region in the brain that is vital for memory. A recent study found that participants who reported sitting for longer periods of time were more likely to have thinner medial temporal lobes (shown in high-resolution MRI scans), an area of the brain that helps to form new memories. This doesn’t necessarily mean that sitting is the cause of the smaller lobe size – more research will be needed to make that conclusion – but this shows that there is a link. Besides possibly having physical effects on the brain, another study found that men who sat for at least six hours a day were more likely to feel tired, restless, nervous, or even hopeless than more active men.

Additionally, prolonged periods of sitting can affect your blood glucose levels. Why does this matter? The brain is primarily fueled by glucose. If this source of energy is disrupted, it can impair, and even damage, brain cells. The main problem with sitting is that it can cause a greater difference between a high and low glucose level, known as glucose variability. Improved glucose control (reducing the variability between high and low glucose levels) can improve performance on cognitively-demanding tasks. Getting up and moving around regularly not only can help control blood glucose levels, but also increases blood flow, which can improve brain function.

So what can you do to minimize any possibly detrimental effects of sitting? It’s recommended that you should break for at least two hours a day from sitting at the desk. Of course, this doesn’t mean two hours all at once. Instead, it should be done in a variety of ways in short breaks throughout the day, such as taking a ten-minute break every hour to get up, refill your water bottle, and walk around the office for a bit, or switching to a sit-stand desk and have alternating periods of sitting and standing to work.

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