Work Your Legs, Strengthen Your Brain

For centuries the relationship between physical activity and brain health has been acknowledged, but new studies are beginning to demonstrate the significance of movement on neurogenesis.

Based on work with mice, a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience highlights the intricate brain-muscle connection. The study involved restraining the hind legs of mice for 28 days. The mice were still able to move around, feed and groom normally, and no additional stress was observed during the trial. Another group of mice was free to move unrestricted. A subsequent examination of a specific area in their brains – the sub-ventricular zone – found that neural stem cell activity was reduced by 70 percent compared to the control group. Also, drastic deterioration of specialized nerve cells was observed in the restrained group.

What does this mean for you?

The results of this study suggest that move movement, particularly weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that maintain existing cell health and triggers new cell growth.
“Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on,” said the lead study author Raffaella Adami of the Universita degli Studi di Milano in Italy. She goes on to say, “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.”

Additional studies are crucial since research in animals doesn’t always produce the same results in human trials. But this study takes a major step in demonstrating the importance of movement in maintaining human health.

“Our study supports the notion that people who are unable to do load-bearing exercises – such as patients who are bed-ridden, or even astronauts on extended travel – not only lose muscle mass, but their body chemistry is altered at the cellular level, and even their nervous system is adversely impacted,” says Dr. Adami.

This research provides yet another reason to remain active, and movement of any kind is better than none. But if you face physical limitations, there are other ways to help increase your brain power through diet, supplementation and developing meaningful relationships.

Learn more about the nine things you can do today to improve your brain fitness.

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