Exercise can sharpen your mind and make you more resilient to stress—but how about the opposite? Can lack of exercise hurt your brain?
According to a new study published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, that’s a distinct possibility. As much as exercise can be helpful to maintaining your brain’s health, a sedentary lifestyle might hurt it.
For the study, researchers had two groups of rats: one with wheels for running (rats can cover miles per day), and another with no wheels for running. After three months of running or lazing about, the rats were injected with dye intended to highlight cells related to the sympathetic nervous system. A proper sympathetic nervous system regulates blood flow, so you can bolt from a predator or keep from falling over when getting up from a nap. An overactive one, however, makes blood flow more scattered and can lead to cardiovascular problems.
Rats who’d been active had little change in the structure of their brains. However, rats who’d been sedentary had significant growth in the interconnectivity of their neurones, changing in ways that over stimulated the sympathetic nervous system, making them oversensitive to stimuli. This would also have a negative affect on their cardiovascular health.
Of course rats aren’t people, but the point is this: being lazy seems to affect the brain, just as much as exercising does. And really, it’s just one more reason to commit to smarter health choices.