We had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Erik Scherder, a professor in neuropsychology at the VU. In this interview we discussed the importance of activity, in particular, how it relates to brain function. We also discussed ongoing societal problems that relate to inactivity such as the inactivity pandemic. In the end we will discuss simple tips and tricks to enforce a more active lifestyle. In the following we will first discuss some of the background information about Erik’s field of research before we go into the details of the interview.
A neuropsychologist concerns himself with the relation between the brain and behavior. It refers to behavior in its broadest sense: Cognition, behavior, motorics and emotion. In particular when it comes to studying brain dysfunctions, they look at people with these corresponding brain dysfunctions from the preborn to end stage of life. They search for possible revalidation procedures to see how these people can be helped. It is a study that is very practical and social, i.e. it is not done in a lab, they predominantly work in the field of clinics, such as hospitals, revalidation centers and nursing homes.
How movement relates to the brain
Erik’s research in neuropsychology is mainly concerned with movement and how it relates to the brain. The brain consists of white and gray matter. It is very important that these tissues get enough blood flow. However, the white matter, which is responsible for brain connections, does not have sufficient blood flow by default. Hence, extra stimulation is needed to increase the blood flow in these areas, which is where movement comes into place. Movement increases the blood flow, because the heart has to pump more blood throughout the body during movement. Erik noted that there are many other things in play, but the read might become too technical to discuss these matters.
The modernisation and digitalisation in our society has major consequences in our behavior. In particular, we are moving less and less. So much so, that it has caused serious health diseases for a large group of people. The problems that arose were so severe, that the WHO officially declared ’the inactivity pandemic’ in 2012. On average, this pandemic is responsible for 5.3 yearly deaths. Erik and his team urged the government to take action, but this is still in process.
Consequences for the VU university
Initiatives to make the VU population more active have also taken place. However, Erik pointed out that most of these initiatives were temporary projects. The interest in these projects was very low. In the previous year, he gave a guest lecture at the VU about movement and nutrition. Only 50 participants were there online out of the 5000 total VU employees. A more extensive project was the VU movement week, organized with the previous rector. How many people were there at the kickoff? Only 25, from which 23 were from Erik’s own faculty.
It should not be restricted to just projects. He pleads for a solution that is not there for just a week, but something that actually lasts for the coming years. Some examples he mentioned include: Not allowing lifts to stop at the first or second floor or having more bicycle chairs in the offices or study areas. The solutions should be something that does not interfere with our already very busy lifes, it should be something that can be done alongside of it.
Being active is very important for a healthy lifestyle and overall longevity of life. Too little of it, and you significantly have a higher chance of all-cause mortality. Not only seen in the studies, but also in the absolute numbers. The inactivity pandemic is responsible for 5.3 million deaths per year, which is close to the TOTAL number of deaths caused by covid (in total 6.1 million as this article was written). We have to act now to increase activity in our lifestyle. We would like to hear of your ideas to make the VU more healthy, if you have them you can mail them to us. We would gladly receive some of your solutions!