In many aspects of our life when we need to use our brain power, we tend to sit down: at school, at work, reading, using our mobile phones or watching television.
Researchers from The University of Western Australia, in collaboration with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute – a global leader in sedentary behaviour research, are examining the prolonged negative impact that sitting might have on our brains.
Lead researcher UWA PhD student Michael Wheeler said the brain is a powerful organ but it needs a stable glucose supply to function optimally. Glucose levels outside that optimal range can have a negative impact on brain health.
“Our brain weighs about two per cent of our body mass but demands about 20 per cent of our resting energy requirements, which is mostly in the form of glucose – the primary brain fuel,” Mr Wheeler said.
“Sitting for long periods throughout the day alters our blood glucose levels, which in turn may affect the brain.”
Mr Wheeler said multiple studies had demonstrated that reducing and replacing sitting with light intensity walking helps keep glucose levels in the optimal range, particularly after food consumption. This means glucose levels do not spike too high, or dip too low.
“Studies investigating the effects of excessive sitting on brain function have had mixed results so far,” Mr Wheeler said.
“But what the studies do agree on is that interrupting sitting with regular activity breaks is positive for many aspects health.
“For scientists, the way in which sitting is likely to affect brain function still poses a research challenge. Based on the available evidence, it’s more likely that reducing sitting would slow cognitive decline, rather than improve cognitive function. Physical activity is also beneficial for other health outcomes.”
So what should people do to improve the health of their brains?
“Take a walk after lunch, wash the dishes by hand after dinner or take an active commute to and from work if possible,” Mr Wheeler said.
“There is much opportunity to reduce sitting time throughout the day, and therefore much potential to have a positive impact on our health.”
The research project has been supported by funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).