Leg Exercise Is Critical To Nervous System Health

Groundbreaking research is published today in Frontiers in Neuroscience,  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. The theory explains why patients with motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline when their movement becomes limited.

The study was done on mice and was quite interesting.

Researchers restrict mice from using their hind legs, but not their front legs, over a period of 28 days. The mice continued to eat and groom normally and did not exhibit stress. At the end of the experiment, the researchers examined an area of the brain called the sub-ventricular zone, which in many mammals is 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 research shows that using the legs sends signals to the brain and these signals are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, which are essential for the brain and nervous system. Cutting back on exercise makes it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells—some of the very building blocks that allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives.

It’s also found that restricting exercise lowers the amount of oxygen in the body, which creates an anaerobic environment and alters metabolism. Furthermore, reducing exercise seems to impact two genes, one of which, CDK5Rap1, is very important for the health of mitochondria—the cellular powerhouse that releases energy the body can then use. This represents another feedback loop.

The study supports the notion that 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.

For the majority of us who will stay on Earth for the entire of our lives, it’s good to know that we can stay healthy neurologically as long as we keep walking and use our legs.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.