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Another reason to take desk breaks? They just might save your memory


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Although the modern world all but requires it, sitting at a desk while staring at a blue-light–emitting screen for eight or more hours a day is not a recipe for thriving health. Despite knowing this, so many of us still flop onto the couch to binge-watch Netflix after a long day at work. But perhaps a new study’s discovery—about the negative effects a sedentary lifestyle can have on your memory—will convince you to at least make a pit stop at the gym before or after work.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, sought to examine how living life in a mostly recumbent state impacts brain health in an effort to expand on previous research linking excessive sitting to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and shorter lifespans, according to a press release. In this study, published in PLOS One, 35 people aged 45 to 75 completed a questionnaire that assessed their physical activity, and they underwent MRI scans so researchers could examine their brain health. The results showed that the medium temporal lobe (MTL), which creates new memories, was thinner among people who spent more time sitting.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of caveats to the study, the most obvious being that the sample size was too small to designate compelling conclusions, and the age range of participants was also limited. Furthermore, the study authors mentioned that people’s behavior while sitting might play a role in their memory—like whether they’re doing an activity that engages their brain (like embroidering or completing a geode-inspired puzzle) or requires little brain power (like passively watching Hulu)—yet did not measure sitting behaviors in any way. Additionally, the authors didn’t inquire how often participants took a break from sitting. Finally, the study doesn’t prove causality; it doesn’t determine that sitting for extended periods of time caused the weakening of memory, just that the two are concurrent and potentially associated.

Despite the study’s wobbly conclusions, it certainly can’t hurt your brain-health goals to replace your favorite TV show with a great book or learn a new language using flash cards to exercise memory retention. Bonus points if you incorporate physical activity into these mind-boosting habits.

Offices around the country are getting healthier, but you may want to think twice about that standing desk.

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