TrekDesk has reported over the years on numerous studies that have shown the positive impact of walking on cognition and overall physical/mental health however a new study available for review in the US National Library of Medicine  sheds light on the potential health risks brought about by inactivity and its deleterious effect on the cellular structure of the brain.

Scientists at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, in conjunction with other institutions, studied the effects of sedentary behavior on the brain structure of lab rats. The study uncovered profound implications that may help to explain health risks that impact the body’s circulatory system. 

In the past two decades scientists have learned of “neural plasticity”, the brains ability to adapt and change based upon outside stimuli and behaviors. Exercise has been shown repeatedly over the years to increase cognitive abilities and improve overall neurological health but little has been uncovered regarding the brain shaping consequences of inactivity.

The study pared active rats (averaging 3 miles per day on running wheels) against sedentary rats confined to cages with no outlet for activity. After a three month period their brains were studied with a special dye that revealed patterns in particular neurons. Specifically the scientists analyzed a region of the brain known as the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVM) which commands the sympathetic nervous system in both animals and humans. This region is essential in controlling blood pressure through the regulation of blood vessel constriction.

Researchers understood from previous studies that over stimulation of this region of the brain is a direct contributor to heart disease; causing blood vessels in the heart to over or under constrict or to constrict too often. This faulty regulator has been shown to lead to high blood pressure and increased cardiovascular risks.

Studying the RVM of the rats the researches found significant differences in the shape of neurons between the two groups. The exercising rats maintained a normal shape to their neurons while the sedentary group developed aberrant branch like structures, theorized to increase sensitivity to stimuli that could interfere with the normal messaging ability of the neurons and affect the body’s overall nervous system. This, the scientist believe, could overload the sympathetic nervous system which in turn may be an underlying contributor to high blood pressure and cardiac disease.

Previous studies have shown that inactivity actually increases the number of fat cells the body produces by as much as 50%. This study further pinpoints the body’s perpetual interaction with exterior stimuli such as exercise and its effect at the cellular level. There are no shortcuts to health. It is imperative that we stay in motion during the day and scientists continue to prove this point in study after study. Engineering movement into our daily lives is a critical health challenge but one that must be addressed.

What Happens to an Inactive Brain and Body