The Science Behind How Martial Arts Can Improve Your Brain’s Cognition

Did you know that martial arts classes can improve brain cognition? This revelation often comes as a surprise to the average person who thinks of martial arts as only fighting systems. Sure, martial arts do teach fighting techniques and practical ways to defend yourself, but they also teach a variety of mental attributes that translate well into other aspects of life like:

  • Discipline
  • Perseverance
  • Toughness
  • Confidence
  • Work Ethic

A true martial artist is a well-rounded person who strives to improve his or her mental attributes as well as his or her physical ones.

 

Understanding how learning a martial art improves brain cognition

Research shows that people who train martial arts are more alert and focused than those who have never trained before. The study also shows that the longer a person has trained, the more enhanced his or her cognition becomes. To make things even better, research also shows the improved mental acuity those who have trained martial arts in the past displayed, was a long-term benefit that stayed with them for years.

Cognitive functions of the brain that were evaluated during the study include memory, ability to focus, how fast information was processed and how executive functions were handled. Prior to the study, science had already shown that any form of exercise led to improved cognitive abilities immediately after the activity, but there was limited information available on how complex activities like learning a martial art affected the brain’s cognition.

A person meditating

Find the right balance between exercise and rest.

The study compared the effects of two training two martial art styles and compared them to the impact of performing only aerobic exercises. Participants were selected to perform three tasks with their order being chosen randomly:

  • A standard martial arts class
  • A non-standard martial arts class
  • A one-hour walk at whatever speed the participant choose

After performing any of these exercises, the participant’s cognitive abilities were evaluated using the Stroop Color and Word test. The results showed that all three activities improved the participant’s ability to focus and their processing speed, but only the two activities that involved martial arts improved their executive function, which is the most crucial metric when it comes to cognitive performance. This improvement might be due to the increased cortical demand martial arts training requires. Students have to perform coordinated, complex motor tasks during their training sessions, which works the brain more than completing a repetitive action like walking.

It does not stop there though; there are many other ways training martial arts makes you sharper. It goes way past improving your brain’s cognition.

 

1) It forces you to solve complex problems while performing complex motions

Troy Worthen training boxing

A martial arts class is a mental workout as well as a physical workout.

The fun part of learning any martial art is testing out your moves on your training partners. Some of them will have similar skill sets to yours, which leads to interesting sparring sessions. It becomes a battle of wits as you both try to set traps for each other.

It teaches you how to anticipate things before they happen and the importance of thinking a few steps ahead of your competition. You have to do this while being pushed to your physical limits. There is no getting around this problem-solving aspect of martial arts; it’s one of those things you will eventually become good at, especially if you plan to compete.

 

2) It improves your confidence which leads to better decision making

Teco Shinzato teaching a BJJ technique in class

BJJ is one of the most practical martial arts for real-world self-defense.

Improved confidence is one of the many benefits that come with learning a martial art. The confidence comes from getting your body into the best shape it has ever been, learning how to effectively defend yourself, mastering techniques you once struggled with and the knowledge you can master anything you set your sights on.

This confidence translates into other areas of your life. A confident person is a lot less likely to cave in to peer pressure and make poor choices than someone with low self-esteem. You’ll be more outgoing as you learn how to tap into your inner self.

Two people sparring in BJJ class.

BJJ is also known as the gentle art.

When you do find yourself in a stressful situation, your confidence will allow you to keep your composure while you use your improved problem-solving skills to come up with a solution.

 

3) It gives you a great workout

As was mentioned earlier, all forms of exercise give you a cognition boost, but nothing compares to martial arts since it actually improves your executive functions as well. When you train regularly, you get to improve your brain function with each session you attend.

You also get an incredible physical workout that can burn over 1,000 calories for every hour spent training. The exercise leads to a release of feel-good hormones in the brain, which regulates your mood and reduces stress levels. All these things are beneficial when it comes to getting your mind to function at optional levels.

 

4) It helps you rest

a group of martial arts students

You can burn up to 1,000 calories in a one-hour Muay Thai class.

Nothing limits your brain’s cognition like not getting enough rest. There are numerous studies that clearly show that mental acuity goes down when a person is sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation can also lead to a variety of health conditions and illnesses.

Fortunately, physical activities like martial arts give your mind and body a good workout, making it easier to fall asleep. As a result, you are well-rested and refreshed the next day, improving your brain’s cognition.

 

5) It gives you a productive way to channel stress and frustration

A group of BJJ students

You make a lot of friends in a martial arts gym.

Nothing hinders your ability to think clearly like anger and frustration. It often leads to us focusing on the wrong things instead of the things we should be focused on. Think of anger as a form of temporary insanity. It is impossible to think clearly when your emotions are that out of control. It often leads to us making bad decisions that we soon regret.

Learning a martial art gives you a productive way to deal with any pent up frustration. You can blast away at equipment in the gym until you work all that negative energy out. Afterward, your mind will be clear and capable of making intelligent decisions. You might even realize whatever ticked you off really wasn’t that big of a deal.

 

So what are you waiting for? Take your cognition to the next level and start training martial arts.

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