The University of Newcastle in Australia is currently conducting a research study with 22 high schools evaluating the relationship between physical fitness, brain function and student stress levels. The interim results indicate that the fitter the student is, the lower their stress levels are.

While exercise is primarily valued for its influence on physical health, strength and mobility, there is an increasing body of knowledge showing that physical exercise, especially strength training, is just as important for a healthy brain,enhanced nervous system function and decreasing stress.

This fascinating link was demonstrated in a study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, which shows that neurological health is as dependent on signals from your large leg muscles as it is on signals from your brain to your muscles.

“The research shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital to produce 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.”

Weight-bearing against gravity is a crucial component of life that allows the human body and brain to function optimally and the leg muscles are a key in this equation. Joan Vernikos, Ph.D., former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, explains this in her book “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals.”

Research by the NASA scientist responsible for monitoring the astronauts, shows your body declines rapidly when sitting for long periods.

Simply standing up over 30 times a day is a powerful antidote to long periods of sitting and is more effective than walking. It’s not how many hours of sitting that’s bad for you; it’s how often you interrupt that sitting that is GOOD for you.

A  study in 2016 in the journal Gerontology found that working your leg muscles helps maintain cognitive function as you get older. According to the authors, simply walking more could help maintain brain function well into old age. The study followed 324 female twins, aged 43 to 73, for a decade. Cognitive function such as learning new things and memory was tested at the outset and at the conclusion of the study.

Interestingly, leg strength was found to be a better predictor for brain health than any other lifestyle factor they reviewed. Consistently, the twin with the greatest leg strength maintained higher cognitive functioning over time compared to her weaker twin. The stronger of the pair also experienced fewer age-related brain changes over time.

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