We’ve long known that endless time spent watching mindless television is not exactly a recipe for good brain health.1

Now a new study underscores this notion, adding a caveat that what we do while we sit matters.2 In fact, researchers say that, when it comes to our brain, certain sedentary activities are better than others. Here’s the story…

In the latest study, researchers found that older adults who curl up with a laptop have a lower risk of dementia than those who opt for countless hours of Netflix bingeing.

The observational study was based on data from 145,000-plus participants aged 60 and older in the U.K. Biobank. Each of these participants had a diagnosis of dementia at the start of the study.

During their study researchers explored two types of sedentary behavior: leisure-time computer use, and TV watching.

Interestingly, the researchers found that it wasn’t the time sitting, per se, but the type of sedentary activity conducted during leisure time that impacts dementia risk.

While this study doesn’t give you a free pass to be a couch potato, it does offer some interesting results.

All Sitting Is Not Created Equal 

Researchers found that when it comes to reducing dementia risk, it’s all about shifting from passive to active sedentary behaviors.

Confused by that statement? I was too.

David Raichlen, the study’s lead author and professor of biological sciences and anthropology at the University of Southern California, helped clear it up.

“We know from past studies that watching TV involves low levels of muscle activity and energy use compared with using a computer or reading,” he remarks.

“And while research has shown that uninterrupted sitting for long periods is linked with reduced blood flow in the brain, the relatively greater intellectual stimulation that occurs during computer use may counteract the adverse effects of sitting.”

Which Activities Are Cognitively Active? 

The study shows that you can get brainy benefits by reducing the hours spent in “cognitively passive” sedentary behaviors – such as TV watching – and bumping up the time spent in “cognitively active” sedentary behaviors – such as playing a board game, reading, or browsing the internet.

Moreover, you can enjoy these same brain benefits even if you’re already physically active.

According to Prof. Raichlen, because the study is observational, the researchers can’t determine causality. However, the author believes the study forms a strong foundation for future interventions to determine the best ways to alter sedentary behavior to improve brain health and reduce dementia risk.

Plenty of research has focused on the link between brain health and physical activity. This research charts new territory as it examines whether all inactivity is created equal.

“We found that sedentary behaviors were associated with dementia risk, but surprisingly, what we do when we’re sedentary impacts the direction of that risk,” Prof. Raichlen said.

The Takeaway 

This study is interesting, but I’m concerned that folks will take it as a hall pass for sedentary behaviors and staring at a screen for hours on end. Increasing daily activity has been proven to protect against dementia.3 Conversely, inactivity can negate the protective effects of a healthy set of genes.

We all need some sedentary leisure time; just try to avoid too much of it. Recruit some friends to play card or board games, which have been found to support brain health in older adults.4

Not a game fan? Try taking up a new hobby like knitting, which involves problem-solving skills.

And whether you’re glued to the TV or playing a video game, remember to get up and walk around frequently. Those minutes of inactivity and activity add up!


  1. https://medlineplus.gov/healthrisksofaninactivelifestyle.html 
  2. University of Southern California. “What older adults do while they sit affects dementia risk.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/08/220822174914.htm 
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315173#Inactivity-may-negate-the-protective-
    effects-of-healthy-genes 
  4. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/2598835 

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