Martial arts offers brain-boosting benefits for all ages
Martial arts offers brain-boosting benefits for all ages, research finds As well as increasing physical fitness and mental health, martial arts can boost brain cognition as well. We are all aware that exercise generally has many benefits, such as improving physical fitness and strength. What do we know about the effects of specific types of exercise? Researchers have already shown that jogging can increase life expectancy, for example, while yoga makes us happy. However, there is one activity that goes beyond enhancing physical and mental health – martial arts can boost your brain’s cognition too. Researchers say that there are two ways to improve attention, through attention training (AT), and attention state training (AST). AT is based on practicing a specific skill and getting better at that skill, but not others – using a brain training video game, for example. AST on the other hand is about getting into a specific state of mind that allows a stronger focus. This can be done by using exercise, meditation or yoga, among other things. It has been suggested that martial arts is a form of AST, and supporting this recent research has shown a link between practice and improved alertness. Backing this idea up further, another study showed that martial arts practice – specifically karate – is linked with better performance on a divided attention task. This is an assignment in which the person has to keep two rules in mind and respond to signals based on whether they are auditory or visual. In a US study, children between eight and eleven years old were tasked with traditional martial arts training that focused on respecting other people, and defending themselves as part of an anti-bullying program. The children were also taught how to maintain a level of self-control in heated situations. The researchers found that the martial arts training reduced the level of aggressive behavior in boys, and found that they were more likely to step in and help someone who was being bullied than before they took part in the training. Significant changes were not found in the girls’ behavior, potentially because they showed much lower levels of physical aggression, before the training than the boys did. Interestingly, this anti-aggression effect is not limited to young children. A different piece of research found reduced physical and verbal aggression, as well as hostility, in adolescents who practiced martial arts too. Some forms of martial arts, such as Tai Chi, place great emphasis on controlled breathing and meditation. These were strongly linked in one study with reduced feelings of stress, as well as being better able to manage stress when it is present in young to middle-aged adults.