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Walking, running, squatting may help to keep ageing brain healthy

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New research suggests that weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running or squatting can help keep the brain healthy.

The study offers clues about how the risk of mental decline can be reduced as people age.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, the findings show that using the legs can boost the production of certain brain cells by increasing their supply of oxygen-carrying blood.

As the legs contain the largest muscles they are of particular relevance for muscular fitness.

“It is no accident we are meant to be active – to walk, run, crouch to sit, and use our leg muscles to lift things,” said Dr. Raffaella Adami of Milan University, who led the study.

Increasing weight-bearing exercise, such as jogging or push-ups, may boost the body’s ability to produce new neurons and improve brain health.

Neurons, or nerve cells, are essential for the working of the brain and nervous system because they allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives.

Cutting back on exercise can hinder the body’s ability to produce new neurons.

The study involved restricting mice from using their hind legs – but not their front legs – over a period of 28 days during which they continued to eat and groom normally and were not stressed.

At the end of the experiment the researchers examined an area of the brain called the sub-ventricular zone, which maintains nerve cell health. It is also the area where neural stem cells produce new neurons.

In the study, a group of mice were restricted from using their hind legs – but not their front legs – for 28 days. Researchers found that this group had 70 percent fewer neural stem cells compared to another group of mice that were allowed to roam and acted as a control.

They found that limiting physical activity decreased the number of neural stem cells by 70 percent compared to a group of mice that were allowed to roam and acted as a control.

Furthermore both neurons and oligodendrocytes – specialised cells that support and insulate nerve cells – didn’t fully mature when exercise was severely reduced.


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