Preliminary research out of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA is linking prolonged sitting in middle-age to the thinning of the medial temporal lobe of the brain.
This is important because this thinning is thought to eventually reach the hippocampus. The hippocampus is an important part of the brain associated with working memory. Working memory is the ability of the brain to retain pieces of information long enough to consume them. For example, I might tell you my phone number and you need to retain it long enough to write it down or to phone it.
Working Memory is Foundational
Working memory is foundational for IQ. The stronger the working memory of the brain is, the higher the IQ of the individual. This makes sense since it is difficult to process or act on information if you can’t retain it.
Other research has shown that physical activity can cause neurogenesis in the hippocampus. This research seems to show that high levels of physical activity will not offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods of time.
So, while physical activity is important, long periods of sitting in middle age or even later seems to have a significant negative effect on brain atrophy.
Change Your Habits
We know that a strong hippocampus is important for aging well. It is a critical memory center of the brain.
We know that there is a negative effect from sitting on the hippocampus.
And we know that sedentary behaviours may not be off-set by physical activities.
So, it is vital to change your habits. Most of us do sit for long periods of time. We sit in front of a computer or a television, for extended periods of time. We may even be physically active in the mornings or evenings. The research tells us though that activity breaks are important. This research suggests that the brain reacts negatively to prolonged sitting.
Build in Movement
A key habit would be to get up from your chair every hour and walk around for five minutes. Build in movement to your day. If you are working, set an alarm for five minutes to the hour and get up and move. If you are watching television, get up at every commercial break and move around.
Building movement so that you are never sedentary for long periods of time. When you get into the habit, you will feel a bit restless when you sit at length. This is a good thing. Give into your restlessness and move. Your brain will thank you.
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