With more and more people working office jobs, it is not abnormal for workers to sit up to 8 hours a day. When they return home and are tired from their commute, they sit on the couch to catch up on their favorite shows.
In fact, as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 1 in 5 American adults meet their physical activity guidelines. However, many believe that rates of physical inactivity are underreported. This is leading to a wide range of health concerns, particularly in terms of the heart and brain.
UCLA Study Finds That Sitting Too Long May Lead to Dementia Risk
Researchers first interviewed 35 people between the ages of 45 and 75 years. They asked these participants how active they were and how many hours on average they spent sitting the week prior. After this data was collected, each person had an MRI scan. This scan focused on the medial temporal lobe, a region that supports the formation of new memories.
What they found, was that a sedentary lifestyle significantly predicts the thinning of this key brain region. Taking this one step further, it was found that high levels of physical activity do not offset the effects of sitting for long periods. Since the thinning of the medial temporal lobe can lead to cognitive decline, this will also increase one’s risk of dementia.
On average, these individuals sat between three and seven hours daily. However, the more people sat, the thinner their medial temporal lobe thickness. Of course, it is too early to say whether or not brain thinning was caused by sedentary behavior. However, since there was a significant correlation between thinning and inactivity, there may very well be at least a casual connection.
The Importance of High Physical Activity
Throughout the past few years, a significant amount of data has been collected regarding the positive impact that exercise has on neural health. As stated above, a sedentary lifestyle has the opposite effect. This is directly linked to your cardiovascular health, which then affects the brain.
After all, anything that reduces blood flow to the brain (i.e. long periods of inactivity) impacts function.
A healthy human brain requires continuous movement throughout the day, ideally short bursts of physical activity every hour. This is because your body and mind are highly connected. It is also why movement therapies have been studied as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety when psychotherapy and medication are not enough.
Aside from treating mental health disorders, exercise has also been shown to improve memory and thinking skills. As reported in one Harvard Medical School article, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus. This is the region of your brain that is associated with learning and memory. It is also the brain area that physically shrinks due to the progression of Alzheimer’s.
The Benefits Are Both Direct and Indirect
When you are physically active, you support a wide range of neurological benefits. This occurs through both indirect and direct means. For example, physical activity directly impacts your brain and health by:
Reducing insulin resistance
Stimulating the growth of blood vessels in the brain
Promoting the release of growth factors (protecting brain cells)
And indirectly, exercise has been shown to:
Improve sleep quality
Reduce feelings of stress and anxiety
Get Moving Today!
On average, it is recommended that you exercise approximately 150 minutes a week. However, if that seems daunting, start small. Some exercise is better than no exercise.
This week, walk for 10 minutes, five days a week. The following week, add five minutes to each walk and continue until you reach your fitness goals. If you do not think you can stick to your new routine, join a class or work out with a friend. An exercise buddy will hold you accountable.
As you become more active, try something that would have once been outside of your comfort zone. Whether you take squash lessons or go dancing, get your heart rate up and your blood pumping. If it doesn’t challenge you. It doesn’t change you.
It is time to make changes that will support your heart and brain for years to come.
If you are concerned with your level of cognition, BrainTest® is an assessment tool that can help you determine potential early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive impairments. Take your first test for free today!