How a sedentary lifestyle affects the brain and what are the benefits of getting off the couch – 05/26/2022

Get out of the comfort zone! For those who have never practiced a physical activity, starting an exercise routine can be a challenging task! Our brain tends to boycott us so we don’t leave the comfort zone or the famous couch zone.

And why does this happen? Any change requires energy, going out and reviewing the routine and often investing financially and prioritizing your time for self-care — these are all actions that directly depend on motivation to get out of inertia and discipline to stay in the new habit.

When the body is already used to a sedentary life, it is natural to beat that physical and mental laziness just thinking about changing clothes and leaving the house! It is not new to say that life tends to be increasingly sedentary, technology makes it easier in many ways, but on the other hand, people spend more and more hours sitting in front of the computer at work and, in their rest time, extend this time in front of the television or cell phone.

Stop to review how your routine is today!

Ah, but am I sedentary? Sedentary behavior refers to any waking activity while sitting, reclining, or lying down with low energy expenditure, such as sitting watching television or using a computer.

In addition to the damage in physical aspects, such as increased risk for chronic diseases, for example, diabetes and hypertension, physical inactivity is also associated with the risk of developing depression and anxiety disorders.

Currently, there are more than 320 million people living with depression and more than 260 million with anxiety disorders worldwide. That is, more than just a matter of aesthetics or physical health, it is the repercussion for mental and emotional well-being that a sedentary lifestyle can cause.

The good information is that all of these aspects are potentially modifiable through targeted interventions through lifestyle changes.

Here we will list 3 impacts of a sedentary lifestyle on mental health and we will give you plenty of reasons to get out of inertia and sedentary lifestyle.

  1. Being sedentary at age 40 is associated with a higher risk of aging neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease

In the aging process, the structural integrity of the brain begins to decrease, causing atrophy in the regions of the hippocampus, frontal, parietal and temporal cortex due to tissue loss and changes in nerve myelination and, consequently, reduction of white matter. These regions are responsible for functions such as memory, motor skills, motor planning and information association.

Physical exercise can act as a protective factor and delay this brain atrophy, especially if associated with aerobic exercises.

A recent study showed that aerobically trained older adults (>70 years) had larger sensory-motor and visual cortical volumes than sedentary adults.

In another study, a group of older adults who underwent 6 months of aerobic training had a significant increase in gray and white matter volumes located mainly in the prefrontal and temporal cortices when compared to the stretching group in cognitively normal older adults.

  1. A sedentary life compromises self-esteem, leads to states of stress and anxiety, predisposing to depression

Evidence shows that more active people tend to be less anxious and depressed. Physiologically, the practice of physical activity increases the transport of oxygen to the brain, stimulates the synthesis and degradation of neurotransmitters, release of serotonin and decrease in blood viscosity, generating effects in reducing anxiety, improving self-esteem and cognition, in addition to reducing of stress.

These positive neurological changes can contribute to the development of skills to deal with tensions and frustrations and improve self-esteem. It’s no wonder: it’s worth investing your time in moving!

One study showed a group that did moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for 30 minutes compared to a sedentary group that used antidepressant medication. The results indicate that exercise can be as effective as medication in reducing psychological distress and still seems to be superior because it does not present any side effects, such as nausea, fatigue or loss of appetite.

  1. A sedentary lifestyle compromises the quality of sleep, which can cause insomnia and mood swings.

Insomnia is associated with psychosocial and occupational impairments that include cognitive deficits, moodiness, daytime fatigue, and poor quality of life.

A study showed the benefits of including aerobic exercise after 6 months of training, resulting in improved sleep quality, psychological well-being and the immune system in people who reported insomnia. Improvements can be physiologically explained by increased energy consumption, endorphin secretion or body temperature in order to facilitate sleep for the body’s recovery.

In addition, some other mechanisms, such as increased energy consumption, endorphin secretion, body temperature, are also beneficial for improving sleep quality.

How much physical activity should I do to benefit from a mental health point of view?

For those who think they don’t have enough time to do a physical activity, there are studies that show numerous benefits such as a simple walk in increasing cognitive functions, especially in processing speed, memory and executive function.

And why not take time and a break from the routine to activate these brain functions daily?

You don’t have to start with a goal that causes you even more psychological impacts, becoming a problem of collection, anxiety and stress.

Know that 15 or 30 minutes of brisk walking (moderate-intensity activity) per day can be enough to reduce mental health risks. Still a potentially more realistic goal than 60-minute shifts in highly sedentary populations.

Just start and move! You can start with a walk in your neighborhood, you can dedicate yourself to a dance, a workout at the gym or even Pilates. See how you can get out of inertia and help yourself by introducing new habits to have a better quality of life.

*Collaboration of Renata Luri, physical therapist with a PhD from Unifesp and partner at Clínica La Posture and Juliana Satake, physical therapist from Unifesp and specialized in Unicamp


– Abd El-Kader, Shehab M; Al-Jiffri, Osama H. ​​Aerobic exercise affects sleep, psychological wellbeing and immune system parameters among subjects with chronic primary insomnia. Afr Health Sci ; 20(4): 1761-1769, 2020

– Falck, Ryan S; Hsu, Chun L; Best, John R; Li, Linda C; Egbert, Anna R; Liu-Ambrose, Teresa. Not Just for Joints: The Associations of Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior with Brain Cortical Thickness. Med Sci Sports Exercise; 52(10): 2217-2223, 2020.

– Hernandez, José Augusto Gospel; Voser, Rogerio da Cunha. Regular physical exercise and depression in the elderly / Regular physical exercise and depression in the elderly / Ejercicio Físico Regular y Depresión en Ancianos. Study research psychological (Print) ; 19(3): 718-734, Dec. 2019

– Kandola, AA; Del Pozo Cruz, B; Osborn, DPJ; Stubbs, B; Choi, KW; Hayes, J F. Impact of replain sedentary behavior with other movement behaviors on depression and anxiety symptoms: a prospective cohort study in the UK Biobank. BMC Med; 19(1): 133, 2021

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– Marashi, Maryam Yvonne; Nicholson, Emma; Ogrodnik, Michelle; Fenesi, Barbara; Heisz, Jennifer J. A mental health paradox: Mental health was both a motivator and barrier to physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. PLoS One; 16(4): e0239244, 2021.

– Morris, TP et al. Resting state functional connectivity provides mechanistic predictions of future changes in sedentary behavior. Sci Rep ; 12(1): 940, 2022.

– Souza, H. dos Santos. et al. The influence of physical activity on the mood of adult women Arch UNIPAR health sciences; 25(2): 87-94, May-Aug. 2021.

– Stea, Tonje Holte; Solaas, Susanne Aune; Kleppang, Annette Løvheim. Association between physical activity, sedentary time, participation in organized activities, social support, sleep problems and mental distress among adults in Southern Norway: a cross-sectional study among 28,047 adults from the general population. BMC Public Health; 22(1): 384, 2022

– Takashi, T. et al. Aerobic exercise in midlife and brain structural integrity: associations with age and cardiorespiratory fitness. Neuroimaging, v.225; 2021.

– Zhuang, Zhenhuang et. al. Association of physical activity, sedentary behaviors and sleep duration with cardiovascular diseases and lipid profiles: a Mendelian randomization analysis.

– Lipids Health Dis; 19(1): 86, 2020.

– Werneck, Francisco Zacaron; Bara Filho, Maurício Gattãs; Ribeiro, Luiz Carlos Scipião. Mechanisms of mood improvement after exercise: revisiting the endorphins hypothesis Rev. bras science move ; 13(2): 135-144, 2005.

About Jenni Smith

She's our PC girl, so anything is up to her. She is also responsible for the videos of Play Crazy Game, as well as giving a leg in the news.

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