This isn’t breaking news, but people sit a lot these days — like, a lot a lot. Whether you sit at a desk between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the reg, or you can usually be found on the couch studying for your next midterm, being an adult in the modern world means being sedentary more often than not. You’re probably already aware that your body doesn’t exactly love sitting all day, but you might not know as much about how sitting all day affects your brain. Spoiler: it’s not great. But seriously, don’t panic. The first step to fixing any problem in life is to gain a better understanding of the problem, so let’s talk a little bit about how parking your butt in a chair actually affects you.
For one thing, according to the American Cancer Society, there’s a strong link between “long periods of leisure time sitting and a higher risk of death from all causes,” including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, digestive diseases, and more. “[Sitting is] something that we all do whether we are sitting and watching TV, resting, reading or working at our computer — and it’s important to know what health risks could be associated with sitting for that long in the day,” Dr. Neha Pagidipati, a cardiologist at Duke University, told NBC News.
If you’re already feeling a little freaked out, take a deep breath and remind yourself that, just because sitting is kind of an unavoidable part of your everyday routine, that doesn’t mean you have zero control over how it affects you. As a 2014 blog post from Harvard Health explains, you can add more standing time to your days in really simple ways, like walking/pacing around whenever you take a phone call (honestly, who doesn’t already do this?), using commercial breaks during your favorite TV shows as workout or stretch breaks, and taking the long way to places you visit regularly, like the office or the grocery store.
And if you need some extra motivation to remind you why it’s important to get up from your chair every once in awhile, here are a few ways sitting can affect your brain.
SITTING CAN AFFECT YOUR MEMORY
It might seem like the two have nothing to do with each other, but if you’re always misplacing your phone, or forgetting to answer important emails, those brain farts could have something to do with how much you’re sitting.
“While sitting seems quite harmless on the surface, its negative impact on blood flow to the head is actually linked to the deterioration of the part of the brain that helps us retain both old memories and new information,” says Beth Shaw, CEO/founder of YogaFit and registered nutritional counselor.
Doing a few mid-afternoon jumping jacks suddenly sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?
IT CAN ALSO DECREASE YOUR FOCUS
You ever find yourself just sitting in front of your computer screen and staring blankly ahead, suddenly unsure of what you were doing, or what you were supposed to be doing? I know I’ve definitely been there.
According to Lara Heimann, founder of Movement by Lara and an expert in yoga and physical therapy, those weird, spacey moments can actually have something to do with the fact that you’ve been sitting for too long. “When you are sitting, you are not actively working your musculoskeletal system or your cardiopulmonary system, which all affect how well the brain functions,”.
These long bouts of sitting essentially dial down the volume, so to speak, of your thinking and perspective, says Heimann. “If you are sitting for long periods of time,” she explains, “you are missing out on a potential neurotransmitter boost that comes with varied movement.”
BEING SEDENTARY CAN ALSO MAKE YOU FEEL SLUGGISH
While it’s mainly your body that feels sluggish after a long day of sitting, neurology specialist Dr. Aida Quka tells us that the reason why you feel that way is because being sedentary can lead to a lack of oxygen in your brain.
Again, I know all of this sounds pretty serious, if not downright scary, but the solution really can be as simple as tweaking a few minor things in your everyday routine. Shaw suggests, for instance, kicking off your mornings by getting upside down in a headstand (side note: using the wall for support is totally fine). That increased blood flow to the brain will feel refreshing, she explains, especially first thing in the morning.
If headstands aren’t your thing, remember, combating the sitting dilemma can still be as simple as pacing around your room the next time your grandma wants to have one of her infamous hour-long chats on the phone.