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Sitting Deteriorates Your Brain



It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but one of the reasons I co-founded UnSit is my inability to sit still for long periods of time. In school, the teacher was always yelling at me to, “sit down and focus.” But it never felt right to sit down while trying to think up an idea for an essay or solve a geometry problem. I think and solve problems better on my feet, and I know many of you do too. Last year we honored Dr. John Ratey with our Walkie Award for his book Spark and other work he has done explaining the connection between physical movement and brain development. I keep coming across new studies explaining and validating the benefit of working and thinking on our feet. This month another study was published making this point, read on….


It’s been well documented that sitting for long stretches each day has a myriad health consequences, like a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, that culminate in a higher mortality rate. Dr. James Levine is best known for championing this message with his book Get UP, which we have for sale on the UnSit shop page. Now a new study has found that sitting is also bad for your brain. And exercise is not enough to save you if you’re sitting for hours at a time.


This new study, published in April 2018 in the PLOS ONE Medical Journal clearly associates sedentary behavior with a reduction in the thickness of the medial temporal lobe, where the hippocampus resides, a region of the brain critical to learning and memory.  Dr. Prabha Siddarth and his researchers at UCLA asked a group of 35 healthy people, ages 45 to 70, about their activity levels and the average number of hours they spent sitting each day. The subjects submitted to M.R.I. brain scans. The M.R.I.s revealed that the thickness of their medial temporal lobe was inversely correlated with how much they sat. The subjects who reported sitting the longest had the thinnest medial temporal lobes.


While this small study does not prove a causal link it does point to sitting as a culprit in brain deterioration which could be contributing to impairments in learning and memory.


While it is possible that people with pre-existing cognitive problems might simply be more sedentary, but the researchers screened the subjects to rule out major medical and psychiatric disorders, so this explanation is unlikely.


But here's I find most compelling for the UnSit movement: this study did not find a significant association between the level of physical activity and thickness of this brain region, which suggests that exercise, even strenuous exercise, may not be enough to protect you from the harmful effects of sitting.


So if you’re still sitting down, go to the UnSit shop page and order a Treadmill desk, or at least a standing desk. If you can’t afford a treadmill desk, try listening to the news and blogs on audio devices while you walk outside. But whatever you do, GET UP and MOVE.


~Rob Jacobs
Co-Founder of UnSit
I walked 1,809 steps while writing this blog post.