A new study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience has shown that one surprising way to maintain good neurological health is through exercising your legs, as the signals sent by leg muscles to the brain are equally as important as the directives from the brain to the muscles themselves.The new research which provides a new look for scientists into the nervous health system and the brain also potentially provides an explanation for a decline in some patients with diseases such as motor neuron diseasemultiple sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy.

Dr. Raffaella Adami from the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy said: “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.”

The study was conducted using mice and restricting their hind-leg use over 28 days. While the mice continued to eat, groom and did not demonstrate signs of stress, at the trials end a study of a section of their brain responsible in many mammals for maintaining nerve cell health showed a decline in stem cells of 70%. This was compared to a control group of mice without any leg restrictions that did not experience this decrease.

The research showed that exercising the legs, especially through weight-building exercises send vital signs to the brain which aid the production of healthy neural cells and are essential for the nervous system and brain. Adami says: “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,” adding that “Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.”

Additional research was done on individual cells which gave evidence that reducing exercise in this manner lowers oxygen in the body which affects metabolism and creates an anaerobic environment. This also seems to have an impact on two specific genes genes,with one, CDK5Rap1, being important for the health of mitochondria which release energy for the body to use. This information provides insight on other health issues such as cardio-vascular problems related to having a sedentary lifestyle and other conditions such as motor neuron disease.

The studies co-author, Dr. Daniele Bottai, also from the Università degli Studi di Milano said of these findings: “I have been interested in neurological diseases since 2004…”The question I asked myself was: is the outcome of these diseases due exclusively to the lesions that form on the spinal cord in the case of spinal cord injury and genetic mutation in the case of SMA, or is the lower capacity for movement the critical factor that exacerbates the disease?”

As well as providing more information for the general population on the benefits of leg exercise, there are also positive implications for astronauts who may be in space for months or years and experience the effect of gravity on exercising. Dr. Bottai concluded: “One could say our health is grounded on Earth in ways we are just beginning to understand.”

Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise programme. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical conditions or to replace your healthcare professional.

You should always consult with a GP, doctor, or other healthcare professional before embarking upon any diet, exercise, or supplementation programme, before taking any medical or nutritional supplement, or if you suspect you may have a health issue.