Research Highlights - May 2018

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Studies show that, like smoking, too much sitting increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature death.  Researchers at UCLA wanted to see how sedentary behavior influences brain health, especially regions of the brain that are critical to memory formation. 

The researchers recruited thirty-five people ages forty-five to seventy-five and asked about their physical activity levels and the average number of hours per day they spent sitting over the previous week.  Each person had a high-resolution MRI scan, which provides a detailed look at the medial temporal lobe, or MTL, a brain region involved in the formation of new memories.

The researchers 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.

This study does not prove that too much sitting causes thinner brain structures, but instead that more hours spent sitting are associated with thinner regions. In addition, the researchers focused on the hours spent sitting, but did not ask participants if they took breaks during this time.

The researchers next hope to follow a group of people for a longer duration to determine if sitting causes the thinning and what role gender, race, and weight might play in brain health related to sitting.

MTL thinning can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia in middle-aged and older adults. Reducing sedentary behavior may also be a target for interventions designed to improve brain health in people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.


University of California - Los Angeles, April 6, 2018, “Researchers Link Sedentary behavior to Thinning in Brain Region Critical for Memory,” by Leigh Hopper.  © 2018 UCLA.  All rights reserved.

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