When we skip our workouts, we typically feel guilty about the physical ramifications—the effect missing a class might have on our muscles the next time we get back into it, the goals we didn’t meet in our training plan, the number of calories we could have burned. What we don’t often consider are the less obvious repercussions of forgoing exercising—like how it affects our brain.
A recent study sheds light on just that—how suddenly refraining from exercise impacts your brain—and the results are alarming (and enough to serve as an impetus to get you to the gym). The research team had the participants, all seasoned athletes over 50, commit to being completely sedentary for 10 days. At the end of the period, the participants’ brains were scanned to analyze any changes brought about by their newfound couch potato lifestyle. What they found was that resting for that week and a half slowed regional cerebral blood flow in eight different brain regions. Most striking is that blood flow slowed to both left and right hippocampus, a region crucial for the formation, storage, and retrieval of memory.
Derek Beres, author of Whole Motion, writes on Big Think that the findings mean that “even if you’re in peak physical form and you stop exercising for less than two weeks, your brain will register significant negative effects and could be already a few steps down the road to decreased memory function.” He did also note that the break from exercise did not diminish cognitive function but asks what might happen if the duration were longer—”what if you stopped exercising for 10 months? Ten years?” Though limited in scope (the study rounded up just 12 individuals), the study’s findings are a certainly a persuasive power the next time you feel the urge to collapse into your couch instead of lace up your running shoes.