Planted behind a desk all day? Stuck in peak hour traffic? And going straight to binging a Netflix show for hours on end? You aren’t alone. The convenience of technology and our modern lifestyles is very real and has led us to be more sedentary than ever.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this inactivity has serious implications on our health.
Approximately 2 million deaths per year are attributed to physical inactivity, prompting WHO to issue a warning that a sedentary lifestyle could very well be among the 10 leading causes of death and disability in the world.
Being sedentary has even been compared to the effects of smoking.
But did you know sitting is not just related to physical health risks – it’s a neurological risks as well.
Blood Flow for the Brain
A 2018 study (published by the Journal of Applied Physiological) claims sitting for too long reduces blood flow to the brain.
The research focused on 15 individuals who already had a desk job. They travelled to the research lab on three separate occasions:
- On one occasion, they were to sit at their desks for four hours, getting up only to go to the loo when necessary.
- On the second visit, participants were directed to get up every half hour and walk on a treadmill for two minutes.
- On the last, they were instructed to sit at the desk for two hours, then walk for eight minutes.
The participants’ brain blood flow was measured using specialised headbands containing ultrasound probes that track blood flow through their middle cerebral arteries, one of the main vessels supplying blood to the brain.
Unsurprisingly, blood flow dropped after the participants were sedentary for four hours. However, when participants stood up and walked about blood flow to the brain returned to normal.
A Two-Minute Shortcut
Intriguingly, the study found a two-minute walk every half hour was more effective than taking an eight-minute walk every two hours.
This simple finding highlights the importance of incorporating regular mini-breaks into our regular office routine to keep our blood flowing.
Easily set up some sort of alarm on your phone or computer to go off every 30 minutes. Then get up and move regularly.
What’s up with your memory?
Another study conducted in 2018 links sitting too much each day with memory problems in middle-age and older adults.
Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that long stretches of sedentary behaviour — like spending all day in your desk chair — were linked to changes in a part of the adult brain that’s critical for memory.
Specifically, the study linked sedentary behaviour to thinning of the medial temporal lobe, a brain region involved in the formation of new memories. Brain thinning can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia in middle-age and older adults, the researchers added.
Movement and brain health are inherently interconnected, and being physically active is a mechanism that can enhance our brain activity.
Need we say more? Ditch the desk chair, and move for health!