Sitting Raises Dementia Risk, Even if You Exercise

A new study found that sitting for long hours at work and at home increases your risk for developing dementia. The study, published in JAMA Network, that followed nearly 50,000 adults, ages 60 and older, in the U.K., determined that sitting for 10 hours or more a day results in a higher incidence of dementia.  

According to The Washington Post, the study participants, who did not have dementia at the start of the research, wore an activity tracker for a week after joining the study that recorded their movement, or lack of movement, throughout the day. The researchers then checked the medical records of the participants for the next seven years, looking for death or hospital records indicating a dementia diagnosis.

The men and women who sat for at least 10 hours daily had an 8% increased risk of developing dementia than if they sat for fewer than 10 hours. And the risks ballooned to 63% if the study participants sat for 12 hours. Surprisingly, this increased risk was not mitigated by exercise.

“It looks like you can’t exercise your way out of risk,” said David Raichlen, a professor of biological sciences and anthropology at the University of Southern California, who led the new study. “Sitting in the office all day, then in front of the TV and in the car and all other ways we find to sit, it adds up.”

Even taking mini breaks throughout the day didn’t improve the risk outcomes for people who still managed to sit for 10 or more hours daily.

The best way to minimize dementia risk is to find ways to sit less.

“People in our study who were sedentary for 9.5 hours a day didn’t have an increased risk,” Raichlen said. Experts advise making movement part of your workday. Stroll around the office when you are on the phone, walk to pick up your lunch instead of having it delivered and schedule walking meetings with clients.

While this study doesn’t say that sitting causes cognitive decline, it does show an association. Raichlen theorizes that sitting affects cerebral blood flow, reducing the brain’s supply of oxygen and fuel. It may also reflect poor eating habits, such as snacking in front of the TV.

The good news is that the negative effects of sitting too much can be reversed.

“Sit less, move more,” says Raichlen. “That’s the message, and we probably can’t repeat it enough.”

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