Why using your legs generates brain power

Your body parts are connected in amazing ways. Think about the gut-brain connection, for example…

The gut and brain have a direct line of communication with each other. It’s called the gut-brain axis, and it’s why you can think about eating and your stomach will respond by creating the gastric juices you need for digestion. It’s also why when you’re nervous or scared, your stomach starts to hurt.

Cool stuff, right?

Well, apparently there’s also a brain-leg connection that’s pretty cool. And if you’re in the know about this bodily connection, you may be able to use your legs to keep your brain and nervous system healthy…

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Your brain and legs: Use them or lose them

You’ve heard the saying, “use it or lose it.” Well, it’s particularly true when it comes to your leg muscles and brain cells.

A recent study from Italian researchers found that when you don’t exercise your legs enough, not only do you lose muscle mass in your legs, you lose nerve cells.

Researchers found that staying sedentary caused mice to lose 70 percent of their nervous system stem cells. It also prevented the specialized cells that support and insulate their nerve cells from fully maturing.

Basically, when mice didn’t move their legs, their brains suffered. In fact, cutting back on exercise made it hard for their brains to produce nerve cells at all. And nerve cells are so important to keeping us happy, healthy and mobile.

Researchers believe these results explain why people with MS, ALS and other neurological diseases tend to go downhill fast once their unable to walk, move, etc. Not only do their muscles atrophy, but their nerve cells begin dying at a rapid pace, because they’re not moving the way a human body is designed to.

“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,” says Dr. Raffaella Adami from the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy. “Neurological health is not a one-way street with the brain telling the muscles ‘lift,’ ‘walk,’ and so on.”

So, clearly moving (or not moving) your legs affects your nerve cells. But why exactly?

Well, when researchers took a closer look at what was happening at the cellular level in sedentary mice, they found that these mice had far less oxygen in their bodies. Sedentary living impacted a gene that affects the health of their mitochondria, the cellular powerhouse that provides the body with energy too. Both factors may explain why sedentary legs make for less healthy nerve cells. Without movement, nerve cells aren’t getting the oxygen and energy they need.

Everyone needs to move

So, even if you’re dealing with health challenges that make movement hard, keep moving as much as you can. It will help you maintain your muscles, brain power and mobility in the long run.

There are a lot of simple ways to keep your legs moving, even if you struggle with physical limitations. You can go for short, daily walks. Maybe you have to use a walker or cane to do that, and that’s okay. Every movement counts.

You can also exercise your legs by swimming. People who struggle with neurological challenges or other mobility issues often find that exercising underwater is easier than exercising on land, because the water holds some of their weight.

Yoga and tai chi are other great, low-impact ways to squeeze in leg movement for people of all fitness and ability levels.

However, you choose to get more movement, know that you’re doing your part to maintain healthy legs and a healthy nervous system.

Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!


  1. The gut-brain connection — Harvard Medical School. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  2. Leg exercise is critical to brain and nervous system health — MedicalXpress. Retrieved May 25, 2018.
  3. Adami, et al. “Reduction of Movement in Neurological Diseases: Effects on Neural Stem Cells Characteristics.” — Frontiers in Neuroscience, 2018.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.