How Inactivity Can Change Your Brain

man and woman

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 3.44.49 PMAfter watching the latest episode of a reality television show, you’ve probably joked:  “I might have lost a few brain cells watching this.” Well, the truth of it is that, yes, maybe you did. But the risk of losing a few brain cells is not because of the content you spent a couple hours taking in on “Real Housewives of Tulsa, Oklahoma” or “I’m Addicted to Pawn Shops.” It’s the fact that you watched the shows while being inactive that is the risk.

A recent New York Times article discusses how inactivity literally can change the functioning of the brain. You probably have read how sitting can increase your risk of a major cardiovascular event. This new research suggests that the changes to your brain that occur while you are sedentary ultimately lead to heart problems.  

For a long time, medical experts thought that our brains were set in place by adulthood and did not change. Now, however, it is understood that the brain can continue to be shaped and changed throughout your life.

A recent study published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology confirmed the malleable nature of the brain. The study compared inactive mice to very active mice. Mice that were given the ability to stay active and mice that were inactive had substantially different looking neurons at the end of the trial. As the article explained: 

[M]any of the neurons in the brains of the sedentary rats had sprouted far more new tentacle-like arms known as branches. Branches connect healthy neurons into the nervous system. But these neurons now had more branches than normal neurons would have, making them more sensitive to stimuli and apt to zap scattershot messages into the nervous system.

In effect, these neurons had changed in ways that made them likely to overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system, potentially increasing blood pressure and contributing to the development of heart disease.

Whoa. “Sprouting” and “Tentacle-like arm” are not things that anyone wants associated with their brain. Yet, the researchers conducting the study believe that similar results would apply to people as well. Lack of activity at home and in the workplace is dangerous for your brain, and your body. As researcher Dr. Patrick Mueller put it succinctly

“‘[T]his is your brain.’ And this is your brain on the couch.”

The good news is that you largely are in control of this outcome. Do you have to sit a lot during the day? You can still be active! To learn about Rebel Desk’s active work options, click here.

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