Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle for Your Brain

There are many risks of a sedentary lifestyle, and they can affect both your physical health and your brain. Keep reading to learn more!
Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle for Your Brain
Bernardo Peña

Written and verified by the psychologist Bernardo Peña.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Inactivity, not exercising, not reading or training, and not moving in general, are detrimental to your overall health. We’ve known this for years. However, in this article, we’ll show you some specific risks of a sedentary lifestyle for your brain.

We live in a time where physical activity takes a secondary place in our lives. Many work jobs where we sit for long hours, and we move around with vehicles instead of walking.

A sedentary lifestyle changes the structure of the nervous system

The nervous system is not a static structure, but a dynamic one. New synapses are continuously created, modified, and others are eliminated. However, the changes that inactivity causes are not exactly good, and that’s one of the biggest risks of a sedentary lifestyle.

In a 2014 study by Mischel and colleagues from the Wayne State University School of Medicine, they found the specific changes that occur in the brain as a result of a sedentary lifestyle.

The researchers chose two groups of rats. One of them was moving and exercising regularly. Another group didn’t. After 3 months, they found physical changes in the structure of the sedentary rats’ brains:

  • An excessive number of additional branches in neurons overstimulated the nervous system, accelerating their heart rate and predisposing them to hypertension.
  • Inactivity led the sympathetic nervous system to fail to regulate peripheral vasoconstriction, which also predisposes them to hypertension and heart disease.

Other scientific research has found that a sedentary lifestyle weakens memory and learning ability, as well as predisposes to neurodegenerative diseases.

A diagram showing neurotransmitters.

How to avoid the risks of a sedentary lifestyle for your brain

Exercising improves physical and mental health

Thomas Stevens, in research published in  Preventative Medicine, showed that moderate exercise improves mental health, especially in those who suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression disorders. In addition, the results of their study yielded data that pointed to records of:

  • Mood improvement
  • Reduction of symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Increased physical well-being
  • Significant increase in the quality of life, especially in women and in the rest of the population over 40 years of age

The conclusion is clear: the best way to avoid chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular diseases are through exercise. In fact, a simple daily walk is enough to avoid many problems. Also, the exercise has to be moderate and progressive.

Sleep is essential

It’s known that one of the risks of a sedentary lifestyle lies in the elimination of activity routines and a disorder in schedules, which results in poor quality of sleep. Of course, this only makes the problem worse.

If you don’t sleep well, you’ll be in a worse mood and suffer greater emotional instability. In addition, your attention and memory will be affected by not getting enough rest.

On the other hand, doing a little exercise improves the quality of your sleep and makes it more restful. It’s not surprising that one of the best ways to treat insomnia is to exercise.

A woman eating a snack on the couch.

Find out more: Irregular Sleep Can Increase the Risk of Cardiovascular Problems

Exercise prevents the risks of a sedentary lifestyle and improves mood

That’s right: exercise helps fight anxiety symptoms, so it also helps you be calmer and more relaxed when you go to sleep. Exercise also increases self-esteem, self-confidence, and promotes social activities.

In conclusion, we have shown you the risks of a sedentary lifestyle for your brain and your body. Therefore, it’s in your power to combat them with some exercise and stimulation for your neurons, such as outdoor activities, visiting museums, or having a conversation with someone you’re walking or jogging with.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Lavielle-Sotomayor, P., Pineda-Aquino, V., Jáuregui-Jiménez, O., & Castillo-Trejo, M. (2014). Actividad física y sedentarismo: Determinantes sociodemográficos, familiares y su impacto en la salud del adolescente. Revista de salud pública16, 161-172.
  • Mischel, N. A., Llewellyn‐Smith, I. J., & Mueller, P. J. (2014). Physical (in) activity‐dependent structural plasticity in bulbospinal catecholaminergic neurons of rat rostral ventrolateral medulla. Journal of Comparative Neurology522(3), 499-513.
  • Vega, R. A. (2011). Riesgo de adquirir enfermedades crónicas no transmisibles provocadas por sedentarismo, de los empleados de la Universidad Pedagógica Nacional Francisco Morazán. Paradigma: Revista de investigación educativa, 33-43.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.