More adults than ever live a sedentary lifestyle, and the vast majority of us know this is bad for our waistlines, heart health and blood glucose control.
But do you know that sitting for extended periods of time can also have a negative impact on your brain?
In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers at Liverpool John Moores University in England claim sitting for too long reduces blood flow to the brain.
The Brain Needs Blood Flow
It’s impossible to overemphasise the importance of maintaining blood flow to the brain. The brain needs adequate oxygen to function, and limiting this oxygen supply can be fatal. Indeed, when blood flow in the brain occurs even in a limited area, the result can be a fatal stroke.
But does sitting too long in one position, as many office workers do, really slow blood flow to the brain? After all, our hearts still beat even when we’re sitting, right?
The research study focused on 15 individuals who already had a desk job. They travelled to the research lab at John Moores 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.
Two Minute Shortcuts
Interestingly, 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.
This study should serve as a wakeup call to anyone who manages people in an office setting – getting you and your employees up and moving can bring about a productivity boost.
For once, there seems to be a ‘quick fix’!
Simply setting some sort of alarm on their phone or computer to go off every 30 minutes or using an app as a reminder to get up and moving regularly can make employees both happier and more productive.
Moving Benefits More Than Just Your Brain
In addition to increasing clear and productivity, we have ample evidence that moving more may help to ward off the onset of brain disease such as Alzheimer’s disease. While diseases such as Alzheimer’s remain too complex to point to any one specific preventative remedy, it makes sense to do as much as possible to try to avoid the disease.
In addition, getting up and moving regularly helps to immediately mitigate the impact of certain neuromuscular diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. We’re all familiar with the stiff neck that comes with staring at a computer monitor for too long. Taking regular mini walking breaks helps ward off stiffness and fatigue, and is a bonus for eye health as well.
Finding ways to move more now can make for a happier and more satisfying life well into our golden years.
So, if you want to improve your productivity and protect your brain health, step away from your desk!
Kate Harveston is a women’s health journalist and the founder of So Well, So Woman.
About Dr Sarah
I’m an Oxford University-educated neuroscientist, presenter of ABC Catalyst, director of The Neuroscience Academy, and author of The Women's Brain Book. The neuroscience of health, hormones and happiness.
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