When I tell patients to “exercise,” it tends to make them run… straight for the door!
And believe me, I understand why.
When you’re on the older side, all of that huffing, puffing, and sweating can feel like a real chore.
But exercising doesn’t have to mean joining a gym or even “working out.” Because according to a new study, all you’ve got to do to reap one of the best benefits of physical activity is move your legs.
Turns out, using the major muscles in your lower half is essential for maintaining the health of your BRAIN!
In the study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers restricted a group of mice from using their hind legs — but not their front legs — for a month.
The mice ate and groomed normally, and they showed no physiological signs of stress.
But by the end of the study, when the researchers examined the mice’s brains, they found that the “subventricular zone” — an area in the brain that’s crucial for maintaining nerve cell health — was in big trouble.
Compared to a group of control mice who roamed freely on all fours, the restricted mice had 70 percent FEWER neural stem cells in this area of their brains. And since stem cells eventually mature into the neurons that make up your gray matter, that means cutting back on exercise could SHRINK your brain over time.
Now, as I’ve shared with you in the past, everyone’s brains shrink somewhat as we age — but if your brain shrinks a LOT, you’re at a higher risk of cognitive decline or something more serious, like Alzheimer’s.
And while exercise that engages all parts of your body — from yoga to pumping iron — can beef up your brain, the study reveals that there’s something special about keeping your legs active.
The theory is that activating the big muscles in your legs sends direct signals to your brain to produce more healthy cells.
What’s more, the study found that restricting the mice’s legs LOWERED the amount of oxygen in their bodies — and we know that having enough oxygen is crucial for your brain to function.
So, if you want to stay sharp as a tack, USE your legs… or risk LOSING your brain!
Any form of activity that uses your legs — from running and walking to tennis or dancing — will do the trick.
But you don’t need an official form of “exercise” to reap the benefits.
Taking the stairs instead of the escalator… doing some gardening… or even playing with your grandkids can keep you on your toes.