We all know that exercise usually has many benefits, such as improving fitness and strength. But what do we know about the consequences of specific types of exercise? Researchers have already shown that running can increase life expectancy, while yoga makes us happy. However, there is one activity that goes beyond improving physical and mental health — martial arts can also boost your brain’s mental activity.
1. To reduce aggression
In a study conducted in the United States, children aged 8-11 were assigned to receive training in traditional martial arts that focused on respecting others and protecting themselves as part of an anti-bullying program. Children were also taught how to maintain a level of self-control in stressful situations.
Researchers found that martial arts training reduced the level of aggressive behavior in boys, and that they were more likely to intervene and help someone who was being bullied than before they took part in the training. No significant changes were found in the behavior of girls, possibly because they showed a much lower level of physical aggression before training than boys.
Interestingly, this anti-aggressive effect is not limited to children. Another part of the study found reduced physical and verbal aggression, as well as hostility, in teenagers who practiced martial arts.
2. Stress management
Some martial arts, such as tai Chi, place great emphasis on controlled breathing and meditation. They were strongly associated in one study with a reduced sense of stress, as well as a better ability to cope with stress when it is present in young and middle-aged people.
This effect was also found in older people — the average age of 330 participants was also 73 years. And the smoother movements make it an ideal exercise for older people with low levels of exposure.
3. Improved focus
Researchers say there are two ways to improve attention, through attention training (TV) and attention state training (TSV). TV is based on working out a certain skill and improving that skill, but not on others — for example, using a video game to train the brain. TCV, on the other hand, is about achieving a certain state of mind that allows you to focus more. This can be done through exercise, meditation, or yoga, among other things.
It has been suggested that martial arts are a form of TCV, and confirming this, recent research has shown a link between practice and increased alertness. In support of this idea, another study found that the practice of martial arts, in particular karate, is associated with better performance when performing a task with divided attention. This is a task in which a person must remember two rules and respond to signals depending on whether they are auditory or visual.
4. Improving emotional well-being
Scientists have long studied the relationship between emotional well-being and physical health, and it is important to note that martial arts have also been shown to improve a person’s emotional well-being.
In the above-mentioned study, 45 older adults (aged 67-93) were asked to participate in karate training, cognitive training, or physical training outside of martial arts for three to six months. Older people in karate training showed lower levels of depression after a period of training than in both other groups, possibly due to the meditative aspect. It was also reported that after training, older people also had an increased level of self-esteem.
5. Memory improvement
After comparing a sedentary control group with a group of people who practice karate, Italian researchers found that participating in karate can improve a person’s working memory. They used a test that involved repeating and memorizing a series of numbers, both in the correct order and in reverse, which became more difficult until the participant was able to continue. The karate group was much better at this task than the control group, meaning they could remember longer series of numbers. Another project found similar results, comparing the practice of tai Chi with “Western exercises” – training strength, endurance and resistance.
Although martial arts have been practiced for self-defense and spiritual development for many hundreds of years, it is only relatively recently that researchers have developed methods to assess the true extent to which this practice affects the brain.
There is such a huge range of martial arts, some are more calm and meditative, others are martial and physically strenuous. But this only means that everyone has their own type, so why not try and see how you can improve your brain using ancient martial arts practices.