Golf, Juggling and neural plasticity

The process of learning a new skill often results in subtle changes in brain structure, roughly analogous to muscle growth in response to strength-training. This happens in response to learning how to juggle, but this also appears to happen in response to learning to play golf, and, in my opinion, also happens in response to other sports.

According to Training-induced neural plasticity in golf novices, by the University of Zurich:

Previous neuroimaging studies in the field of motor learning have shown that learning a new skill induces specific changes of neural gray and white matter in human brain areas necessary to control the practiced task. Former longitudinal studies investigating motor skill learning have used strict training protocols with little ecological validity rather than physical leisure activities, although there are several retrospective and cross-sectional studies suggesting neuroprotective effects of physical leisure activities. In the present longitudinal MRI study, we used voxel-based morphometry to investigate training-induced gray matter changes in golf novices between the age of 40 and 60 years, an age period when an active life style is assumed to counteract cognitive decline. As a main result, we demonstrate that 40 h of golf practice, performed as a leisure activity with highly individual training protocols, are associated with gray matter increases in a task-relevant cortical network encompassing sensorimotor regions and areas belonging to the dorsal stream. A new and striking result is the relationship between training intensity (time needed to complete the 40 training hours) and structural changes observed in the parieto-occipital junction. Thus, we demonstrate that a physical leisure activity induces training-dependent changes in gray matter and assume that a strict and controlled training protocol is not mandatory for training-induced adaptations of gray matter.

Not earth-shattering news by any means, except for the part at the end about the relationship between training intensity and brain changes. This study simply reinforces what we already know, that playing sports and staying active can help the brain(I know, some people don’t consider golf to be a sport, but it does require skill). It would be great to compare the results of playing golf with juggling, but as far as I am concerned, no one has done this.

As for me, I never play golf since I find it boring and it is not intense enough. But that’s just me. I prefer juggling, joggling and hiking. An advantage of juggling is you can do it almost anywhere, even while running.

Whatever you do, if you want to protect your brain from aging, learn a new athletic skill. Try as many different sports or activities as possible until you find something that you love doing. The journey is as important as the destination. If you can’t find something you like, invent a new sport!

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One response to “Golf, Juggling and neural plasticity

  1. Reblogged this on One Regular Guy Writing about Food, Exercise and Living Longer and commented:
    This study simply reinforces what we already know, that playing sports and staying active can help the brain ….

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