A sedentary lifestyle can be alarmingly harmful, according to a new study published in The Journal of Comparative Neurology.
Researchers gathered a dozen rats and split them between two types of cages: enclosures with running wheels and enclosures without. After three months, scientists injected the rats with a type of dye that colors specific brain neurons.
According to The New York Times, the neurons of the active rats looked relatively similar after three months, but the neurons of the sedentary rats had changed drastically, sprouting more branches than the average neuron.
Too many branches make neurons oversensitive to stimuli and more likely to overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system–a known cause of high blood pressure and cardiovascular damage.
As an example, a well-regulated sympathetic nervous system that allows blood vessels to widen or contract as needed prevents you from fainting when you stand up from your desk. An overstimulated nervous system could be overwhelmed by these types of basic physical activities.
The study's authors included the caveat that despite the neurological similarities between rats and humans, the investigation was short-term and animal-based.
But the scientific research against sedentary lifestyles seems to be growing; just yesterday researchers announced that an inactive lifestyle kills us at about the same rate as smoking.