Groundbreaking research 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.
Published this month in Frontiers in Neuroscience, the study fundamentally alters brain and nervous system medicine — giving doctors new clues as to why patients with motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal muscular atrophy and other neurological diseases often rapidly decline when their movement becomes limited.
Limiting physical activity decreased the number of neural stem cells by 70 percent. 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, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, 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.
These results shed light on several important health issues, ranging from concerns about cardio-vascular impacts as a result of sedentary lifestyles to insight into devastating diseases, such as spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), multiple sclerosis, and motor neuron disease, among others.
This research demonstrates the critical role of movement and has a range of potential implications. For example, missions to send astronauts into space for months or even years should keep in mind that gravity and load-bearing exercise play an important role in maintaining human health, say the researchers.
“Reduction of Movement in Neurological Diseases: Effects on Neural Stem Cells Characteristics” by Raffaella Adami, Jessica Pagano, Michela Colombo, Natalia Platonova, Deborah Recchia, Raffaella Chiaramonte, Roberto Bottinelli, Monica Canepari and Daniele Bottai in Frontiers in Neuroscience. Published May 23 2018