Mind & Body

Want a Healthy Brain? Don't Skip Leg Day, Says a Groundbreaking Study

Reading books, speaking a second language, practicing your times tables, and playing the piano are not the only ways to foster a healthy brain. Listen up, brainiacs — you might want to consider getting a gym membership, too.

Legs for Days

We've known about the connection between physical activity and brain health, but we're digging even further into why the relationship exists. To that end, scientists took a unique approach for a May 2018 study. While we know that not using your legs will reduce bone and muscle mass — something we've seen in bedridden patients, people with paraplegia, and astronauts in microgravity — the team wondered if restricting leg mobility would have any effect on the brain.

For their research, the scientists immobilized the hind legs of mice for 28 days (yikes). Another group of decidedly luckier mice was free to roam around on all fours. At the end of the study period, scientists looked at the mice's brains, specifically the brain region that acts as a hub for central nervous system activity known as the subventricular zone. The results sent a clear message: Don't skip leg day, folks.

These Brains Were Made for Walkin'

Restricting leg movement in the mice saw a 70 percent reduction in the number of neural stem cells in their brains compared to the freely moving control group. That's pretty significant. Without neural stem cells, new cell development (known as neurogenesis) doesn't happen and brain health declines as dead brain cells aren't replaced. "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," lead study author Raffaella Adami of Italy's Università degli Studi di Milano tells Forbes.

The takeaway here shouldn't be news to you. A little physical activity goes a long way for nearly every aspect of your health. Gym membership, anyone?

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Want more? Check out "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" by John J. Ratey. The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto June 11, 2018

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