We probably listen to music, read books or play the guitar whenever we are at home to relax the brain. But, have anyone of you thought of going out for a walk in the weekends for a healthy brain? Most of them are lazy to do so. Even in the gym, most people prioritize the upper body more than the lower body and as such, they often skip leg training day.
Groundbreaking research shows that neurological health depends as much on signals sent by the body’s large, leg muscles to the brain as it does on directives from the brain to the muscles. Published in May 2018 in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the study fundamentally alters brain and nervous system medicine — giving doctors new clues as to why patients with motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline when their movement becomes limited.
For their research, the scientists immobilized the hind legs of mice for 28 days. Another group of luckier mice was free to roam around on all fours. At the end of the study period, scientists looked at the mice’s brains, specifically the brain region that acts as a hub for central nervous system activity known as the subventricular zone, which in many mammals has the role of maintaining nerve cell health. It is also the area where neural stem cells produce new neurons.
Limiting physical activity decreased the number of neural stem cells by 70 percent compared to a control group of mice, which were allowed to roam. Furthermore, both neurons and oligodendrocytes (specialized cells that support and insulate nerve cells) didn’t fully mature when exercise was severely reduced.
The study shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, essential for the brain and nervous system. Cutting back on exercise makes it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells which are some of the very building blocks that allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives.
Lead study author Raffaella Adami of Italy’s Università degli Studi di Milano tells Forbes,
“It is no accident that we are meant to be active: to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things. Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.”
They also found that restricting exercise lowers the amount of oxygen in the body, which creates an anaerobic environment and alters metabolism.
So, here is the thing, a little physical activity goes a long way for nearly every aspect of your health. Never skip leg day!