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One Major Side Effect of Sitting on the Couch Too Much, Says New Study

You know that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for your body. A new study shows how bad it is for your mind.

Everyone knows that leading a sedentary lifestyle won't do your body any favors. Forgoing your daily run or HIIT session, not treating yourself to long and healthy walks, or simply not moving around in any meaningful way are just some of the shortest and surest paths to weight gain, enduring back and shoulder pain, eventually developing heart disease and diabetes, and—per recent research published in the Journal of Sports Sciencespoor mental health that could spiral into depression.

What's more, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and published in the International Journal of Obesity, there's yet another grim side effect to sitting on the couch for long periods that you should be aware of: You'll be hurting your attention span and making yourself much more vulnerable to distraction.

To conduct their study, scientists tracked the movement patterns and daily habits of 89 overweight or obese adults for a full week via accelerometers. They put participants through a series of tests that "measured their ability to multitask and maintain their attention despite distractions" along the way.

"Several studies have examined the relationship between different types of sedentary behaviors such as TV viewing and cognitive functions in children and adults," observed Dominika Pindus, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the university, who oversaw the study. "The relationships they observed varied with the type of sedentary behavior. These studies primarily measured sedentary behaviors during leisure time. Few studies, however, have examined the relationship between prolonged sedentary time and cognitive function."

When the study concluded, the scientists had discovered "that individuals who spent more sedentary time in bouts lasting 20 minutes or more were less able to overcome distractions."

"We used EEG recordings to measure electrical potentials that are generated in the brain while participants engaged in tasks that challenged them to focus, ignore distractions and flexibly switch attention between tasks," explained Pindus. "Our key finding was that people who spent more time in prolonged sedentary bouts were more easily distracted."

That's not all. The researchers also observed what has long been known: sedentary behavior for longer periods of time is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and early death. "People who do not engage in at least 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and sit for eight hours or more have an increased health risk," the study notes.

So remember: To keep your brain sharp and body healthy, you need to step away from your couch—or your desk—to get some exercise throughout the day. If you're having difficulty working low-to-moderate exercise into your own routine, read on, because there are a few easy workout moves you can do at home in 30 seconds or less (yes!). And for more healthy living advice from the front lines of science, make sure you're aware of the One Major Side Effect of Walking Every Day, According to Science.


Man planking

In just 30 seconds a day, performing planks will help you see results across four major muscle groups: abs, arms, triceps, and core.

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woman doing squats outside

Let's face it: You can do squats anywhere. "Squats are great for toning your thighs and booty and you can do them without any equipment," Tone It Up founders Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott once explained to us. "Just make sure that your feet are hip-width apart and knees don't go past your toes throughout the move. This will help prevent injury."

15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work

Wall Sit

Wall sit

According to Matt Sauerhoff, owner of The LIV Method, one of the fastest and easiest moves you can do quickly is a simple wall squat—or wall sit. "Start with your back against the wall and your heels about a foot off the wall. Bend your knees and slide down the wall until your legs create a 90-degree angle," he says. "Make sure your knees are aligned over your toes/laces. Press your heels into the floor and focus on contracting your abs, pressing your lower back into the wall so it's flat. Hold for 30 seconds."

Anywhere Pushups

Woman doing pushups at home

Yes, as their name suggests, you can do this move basically anywhere. Simply find a hard surface like your kitchen counter or even an ottoman or couch. With both hands on the surface, walk away so that you're in an elevated push-up position. Push down until your arms are bent to 90 degrees. Push up, and do ten more times.

For more great workout inspiration, see how This One Walking Workout Is an Amazing Fat Burner, According to a Top Trainer.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William