We bet that each of you has seen a cliché in TV high school shows that athletes are stupid, study poorly, and don’t do well in math or science? But what if this is complete nonsense, and researchers claim quite the opposite? Today it’s quite clear that athletes are better at filtering out noise and static, which allows them to process information much better.
Fun fact: however, all these effects appear only if the athletes did not experience brain injuries. — otherwise, the degree of information processing is reduced.
But forget about injuries. Let’s take a look at the six main sports that have a beneficial effect on brain activity!
Running is an aerobic exercise, meaning it is low intensity and uses oxygen as the main source of energy to support muscle movement. According to a 2016 study, running develops our brains by stimulating neurogenesis in the hippocampus. That is, with regular exercise, the creation of new neurons is accelerated, and the connection between cells in a given location of the brain increases.
Another study found that after starting regular jogging, 28 healthy students experienced a significant increase in learning productivity compared to a group that did the same studying program but didn’t run.
Swimming, like running, can stimulate neurogenesis. But this is not the only effect of this active sport — training also has a positive effect on the synthesis of endorphins. And they, in turn, increase the body’s resistance to stress and increase the pain threshold. In addition, swimming allows you to increase blood flow to cerebral criteria by more than 10%, which improves brain activity, too.
Yoga (both by itself and in combination with meditation) can also be quite helpful in keeping the brain active. According to research, with regular classes for at least three months in a row, the production of a brain-derived neurotrophic factor increases significantly. This protein encoded by the BDNF gene is considered to be a substance that stimulates and supports the development of neurons.
Additionally, yoga enthusiasts are observed to have reduced levels of cortisol and inflammation markers, which positively affect the preservation of long-term memory. And, of course, do not forget that yoga and meditation are wonderful practices for both the mind and the body, guaranteeing excellent health.
Riding a bicycle
Another splendid method to increase neurogenesis is cycling. This sport is also aerobic and triggers the growth of new cells in the hippocampus. So far, research has only been done on outdoor riding and not on simulators, but more details are likely to come soon. So far, it is known that in addition to improving neurogenesis, such training improves heart function, reduces susceptibility to stress and anxiety, and improves joint mobility.
An increase in heart rate along with a strong increase in neuronal synthesis is something that can be achieved by regularly attending dance classes or dancing at home. It is important that this type of exercise requires work on the coordination of movements, and the brain is actively involved in this. Hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, classical dances — it doesn’t matter which direction you choose, because everywhere you need to remember the sweeps and control every movement.
Badminton is a great combination of physical activity and brain work because the athlete needs not only to move but also to understand at what angle to put the racket in order to direct the shuttlecock along the desired trajectory. So, such training requires quick decision making, which has a positive effect on the development of memory and cognitive abilities. It is also necessary to recognize the spatial position of the opponent, calculate and select throws. These exercises activate the areas of the brain responsible for the impulse control function.