Couple Walking

A groundbreaking study by the University of Milan and the University of Pavia, Italy has revealed that neurological health is dependent on signals that come from the leg muscles just as much as it does from signals from the brain to the muscles. The study has given doctors clues as to why people with motor neuron diseases often times decline rapidly once their movement has become limited. The ability to use our leg muscles in a variety of ways (walking, crouching, running and lifting) benefits our nervous system and our brain in a very powerful way.

When load bearing exercise has become compromised, the body chemistry becomes altered at the cellular level and adversely impacts the nervous system. The study conducted with mice showed the lack of movement had detrimental effects on some areas of the brain. The research used 4 month old mice which were separated into two groups. The first group had their tails tied by a string to the top of their cage allowing them movement on only their forelimbs, the use of the back legs was restricted. The second group of mice were allowed to roam freely. Both groups were fed daily and their weight check daily also. The mice in the first group continued to groom and eat normally and did not show any stress.

At the end of the 28 day trial, the researchers examined the sub-ventricular zone of the brain which is where most mammals maintain nerve cell health and where neural stem cells produce new neurons.
The research showed that with use of the legs and particularly in weight bearing exercise, signals are sent to the brain that help maintain nerve health. When physical activity of the rear legs was restricted which was the case in the first group of mice, there was a 70% drop in neural stem cells and both oligodendrocyes and neurons (specialized cells which support and insulate nerve cells) didn’t mature fully when the exercise was severely decreased. They also found that the mice with restricted activity had less oxygen in their bodies which indicated reduced exercise also can alter metabolism and oxygen supply in humans.

The research indicates that reducing exercise can make it more difficult for the body to generate, healthy, new nerve cells. Humans are meant to remain active, using our legs for a variety of tasks from walking to lifting. The findings do give hope to discovering new strategies for treatment of neural diseases in people with limited movement. And questions do arise as to whether the reduced capacity for movement is the critical factor that exacerbates neurological diseases.

To view the original scientific study click here: 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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