Sitting for a Long Time Is Bad for Your Brain

Sitting too much may be bad for your brain and could potentially affect your ability to form new memories. This finding may hint at potential interventions for neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease.

For the study, published online Thursday in PLOS One, researchers had 35 volunteers (25 women, 10 men) between the ages of 45 and 75 self-report their daily physical activity and the amount of time they spent sitting per day. The team then performed MRI scans on the volunteers, particularly looking at the thickness of their medial temporal lobe (MTL), an area of the brain that plays a role in memory.

Results revealed there was no observable correlation between physical activity and MTL thickness. However, individuals who spent more time seated had thinner MTL.

Sitting in a chair for too many hours a day may have health consequences. Deck chairs on a beach in England Glun Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

The study only showed that adults who sat more exhibited thinner MTL, not what the effect of this thinner MTL may be. This area of the brain naturally thins with age, however this thinning is associated with episodic memory loss. The study concluded that the correlation between sitting and MTL thickness may have clinical potential for interventions designed to improve brain health in middle-aged or older adults and delaying the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

This is not the first time research has suggested that sitting too much may be poor for your health. A paper released in October showed a correlation between sitting too much during the day and a risk of early death.

While there may be no way to avoid sitting, as many of us are required to remain seated during our jobs, Dr. Keith Diaz, from Columbia University Medical Center and lead study author of the paper, suggests that more frequent breaks may be the answer. The more intense your movement during these breaks, the better, so a few brisk walks around the block a couple of times a day may be helpful.