If you thought losing your six-pack was the worst thing that could come from sitting on the couch all day, think again: Turns out, all the sitting we do isn’t just changing the way our abs look, it’s also transforming our brains—and not in a good way.
A recent study published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology found that leading a sedentary lifestyle changes the shape of certain neurons in the brain, which can have serious consequences for cardiovascular function down the road.
The study compared the activity of two groups of rats over the course of three months. Half of the rats were placed in cages with running wheels and allowed to run at will while the other half were housed in cages without wheels, left to sit around all day. After three months, scientists examined the animals’ rostral ventrolateral medulla, the section of the brain that commands the body’s sympathetic nervous system. Although the study was performed on rats, researchers say the results can likely be applied to humans as well. Spoiler alert: The results were not pretty.
Here’s what they found, as reported in the New York Times: While the brains of the active rats were pretty much unaffected, the brains of the sedentary rats had sprouted lots of branches in the rostral ventrolateral medulla. These branches connect healthy neurons to the nervous system. Now, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? I mean, what are a few extra branches going to do? Well, all these added branches make the neurons more sensitive to stimuli, causing blood vessels to constrict too much and too often. This overstimulation can eventually lead to cardiovascular damage.
So, here’s the Cliff Note’s version: Sitting around too much, ironically enough, sends the sympathetic system into overdrive, which contributes to serious health issues like high blood pressure and heart damage. So all of those obnoxious headlines that claim, “Sitting is killing you!” are actually entirely accurate. Is that gym motivation, or what?
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