Dementia is the fourth leading cause of death in the elderly, after cancer, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease. Thirty six million people currently suffer from the condition worldwide and the rate of incidence is increasing by one new patient every seven seconds, a 2020 study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry warns.
That's exactly why it's so crucial to maintain your own brain health. While there is currently no cure for dementia, certain lifestyle choices can have a significant effect on your risk levels and rate of cognitive decline. In particular, there's one thing you're most likely doing at work that experts say can lead to brain atrophy and dementia over time. Read on to find out which one habit you should stop immediately to preserve your brain health now—before irreversible damage is done.
Sitting for long periods at work may increase your likelihood of dementia.
Over the years, a growing body of data has hinted that a sedentary lifestyle is linked with a higher risk of dementia, but some results have remained "inconsistent and inconclusive," according to researchers. For this reason, the scientists behind the aforementioned study published in Translational Psychiatry conducted a meta-analysis of 18 cohort studies to confirm what so many other teams have suggested. Having reviewed a total of 250,063 study subjects—2,269 of whom were diagnosed with dementia—that research team determined that sitting for long periods of the day is, in fact, independently associated with significantly increased dementia risk.
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A sedentary lifestyle can cause the brain's memory center to atrophy over time.
Researchers believe that being sedentary throughout the workday can cause thinning in the medial temporal lobe (MTL), the brain region responsible for learning and episodic memory.
A separate 2018 study, conducted by a research team at UCLA and published in PLOS ONE, found that "sedentary behavior is a significant predictor of thinning of the MTL and that physical activity, even at high levels, is insufficient to offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods." Though the study did not go so far as to prove causality, the team did demonstrate an association between long hours spent sitting and thinner MTL regions.
An active lifestyle may slow brain degeneration by as much as 70 percent.
One recent case study appears to confirm the link between a sedentary lifestyle and higher rates of neurological decline. Published last month in the Journal of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, the study looked at the brain health of the Tsimane people, a group indigenous to Bolivia. While the Tsimane have little access to modern health care, they reportedly have some of the lowest and slowest rates of brain atrophy in the world.
Scientists in that study found that, compared to Westerners, the Tsimane exhibited a 70 percent smaller difference in brain volume between middle age and old age.
The key to their exceptional brain health, according to the researchers? Their physically active lifestyle.
Getting active could prevent over a million Alzheimer's disease cases globally.
We know that sedentary behavior takes a toll on brain health, but just how significant are the effects of getting active? It turns out even modest increases in activity levels could have a staggering impact.
As Forbes points out, "studies have calculated that about 13 percent of Alzheimer's cases may be due to inactivity, and that even a 25 percent reduction in sedentary behavior would reduce Alzheimer's prevalence by about one million cases across the globe."
So, before you sit down for your next workday, consider this: getting up and active isn't just good for your body—it's good for your brain health, too. Taking every step within your power to preserve your cognitive wellbeing begins with taking more steps throughout the day.