Leg Exercise Found To Be Critical For Neural Stem Cells And Brain Health

Fascinating new research published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, provides even more evidence that movement and exercise, are fundamental to the health of our bodies and minds. Presented in the paper Reduction of Movement in Neurological Diseases: Effects on Neural Stem Cells Characteristics, the findings demonstrate a complex relationship between exercising the lower body and healthy neurological functioning.

Dr. Daniele Bottai from the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy, says that his interest in neurological diseases drove him to help facilitate the study. "The question I asked myself was: is the outcome of these diseases due exclusively to the lesions that form on the spinal cord [or] genetic mutation, or is the lower [body's] capacity for movement the critical factor that exacerbates the disease?" Co-author Dr. Raffaella Adami states, "Our study supports the notion that people who are unable to do load-bearing exercises -- such as patients who are bedridden, 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.”

This information serves to enlighten doctors on the reasons why patients with motor neuron diseases; or any movement limitations; and/or neurological illness often see their health decline quicker, when their movement is further reduced.

For 28 days, mice were restricted from using just their back legs, but able to use their front legs. They displayed no signs of physical or mental stress and behaved normally for this period of time. After the completion of 28 days, scientists examined the sub-ventricular zone of the brain, which is responsible for maintaining the health of nerve cells, as well as being the area in the brain where neural stem cells create new neurons.

Compared to a control group, mice with limited physical activity showed a 70 percent decrease in the number of neural stem cells. Specialized cells that insulate nerve cells, oligodendrocytes, and neurons, were shown to not fully develop in these mice, as well.

This research suggests that exercising the legs, with an emphasis on weight-bearing work, is vital for the production and maintenance of healthy neural cells. “Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles 'lift,' 'walk,' and so on,” says Adami. Rather, signals sent from the leg to the brain are just as critical as signals sent from brain to legs. "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.”

By looking at individual cells, the scientists found that limiting movement and exercise lowers the overall amount of oxygen in the body, altering metabolism. Limiting exercise also impacted the gene responsible for the health of the mitochondria, an organelle in which the biochemical processes of respiration and energy production occur.

Never before has it been more clear just how vital exercise and movement are for the holistic health of the entire organism. Even if you’ve never exercised before, it is not too late to start. We can teach you everything you need to know. Come in for a free fitness assessment today.


  1. Raffaella Adami, Jessica Pagano, Michela Colombo, Natalia Platonova, Deborah Recchia, Raffaella Chiaramonte, Roberto Bottinelli, Monica Canepari, Daniele Bottai. Reduction of Movement in Neurological Diseases: Effects on Neural Stem Cells Characteristics. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 2018; 12 DOI: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00336

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