Do you get all your best ideas after a walk? Thinking on your feet is now backed by science as a way to make your brain smarter.
We already know that sitting all day long leads to worse health outcomes and higher risks of cardiovascular diseases. But in new studies highlighted by the New York Times, scientists found that sitting down not only hurts our body, but also our mind.
Studies: Sitting makes brain weaker, standing makes it stronger
A new study published in PLOS One found that sedentary behavior literally weakens our brain by reducing the thickness of our medial temporal lobe, which is essential to our ability to recall memories. The researcher found that the longer participants sat during the day, the thinner their medial temporal lobes got.
“It is possible that sedentary behavior is a more significant predictor of brain structure, specifically MTL thickness, and that physical activity, even at higher levels, is not sufficient to offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods of time,” the researchers concluded in the study.
So what can we do to undo the damage our sitting causes us? Simply start standing more. One study in Psychological Science found that it could enhance our brain’s selective attention. When participants in that study were presented with conflicting stimuli — such as the word “green” printed in blue ink — they were better able process the name of the print color while standing.
Turns out, when you are forcing your leg muscles to engage, the bodily stress helps your brain feel less stressed when answering questions that divide attention. “It has been repeatedly shown that stress or load (or both) actually improves the selectivity of attention,” the study notes.
Next time an idea is on the tip of your tongue, try getting up from your desk and onto your feet, so you do not lose it. Doing a midday standing stretch or going for a walk at work may be the boost your brain needs to keep the ideas flowing.