If you tend to skip over exercises like squats and deadlifts, there’s a reason you should make leg day more of a priority. According to new research, those muscles on the lower half of your body can play a major role in brain health.
In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers found restricting mice from using their hind legs for 28 days—but still allowing them to use their front legs—decreased their number of neural stem cells by 70 percent compared to mice who were unobstructed. And with fewer neural stem cells, it’s really hard for your body to produce the nerve cells that are crucial to the health of your brain and nervous system, whether it’s helping you deal with stress or work through life challenges.
“It’s no accident that we’re meant to be active: to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things. Neurological health isn’t a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.” —Raffaella Adami, study author
“Our study supports the notion that people who are unable to do load-bearing exercises—such as patients who are bed-ridden, 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,” said study author Raffaella Adami in a press release. “It’s no accident that we’re meant to be active: to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things. Neurological health isn’t a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.”
Brain function isn’t the only result of exercise restriction, though. Researchers also found it lowers the amount of oxygen in the body, which changes your metabolism. And another downfall? It impacts CDK5Rap1, the gene that keeps your mitochondria healthy, which are responsible for your body’s energy. All in all, leg day is even more important than once thought—and though those squats might burn like crazy, working every part of your body is essential for your overall well-being.
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