Spending Most of Your Time Indoors Can Damage Your Brain

Friday, November 06, 2015
(photo: Henrik Sorensen, Getty Images)

Being indoors too long is not good for the human brain, according to a new study (pdf).


Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, SUNY-Upstate Medical School and Syracuse University looked at the effects of people staying indoors and exposed to indoor pollution, such as carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in everything from plastics to newspapers to ceiling tiles.


Two dozen participants spent six eight-hour workdays in an environmentally controlled office space for the study. Some days they were exposed to conventional office building environments, which tend to have high concentrations of VOCs. Other days they remained in green office buildings with low VOC concentrations, and on other days were in green+ buildings that simulated a green building with a high rate of outdoor ventilation. 


Participants completed a 1.5-hour computer-based cognitive assessment test at the end of each day. “The results were striking,” Reynard Loki wrote at AlterNet.


The participants’ cognitive scores were on average 61% higher on the green building day and 101% higher on the two green+ building days than on the conventional building day.


“These results are provocative for three reasons,” study leader Joseph Allen, the director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard’s School of Public Health, told AlterNet. “First, they suggest that the levels of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds that we commonly encounter in conventional office buildings are associated with decreases in worker performance compared to when those same workers are in green building environments. Second, when we enhance ventilation and optimize indoor environmental conditions, we see improvements in the cognitive function of workers. And third, these results fill important knowledge gaps in existing research about the relationship between green buildings and occupant health.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Being Inside Is Making Us Stupid: How Indoor Air Pollution Impacts the Function of Our Brains (by Reynard Loki, AlterNet)

Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments (by Joseph G. Allen, Piers MacNaughton, Usha Satish, Suresh Santanam, Jose Vallarino, and John D. Spengler, Environmental Health Perspectives) (pdf)

The National Human Activity Pattern Survey: A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants (by Neil E. Klepeis, William C. Nelson, Wayne R. Ott, John P. Robinson, Andy M. Tsang and Paul Switzer, National Exposure Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) (pdf) 


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