Tag Archives: martial arts

Are you cognitively fit?

When we think of fitness, we usually think of speed, strength, flexibility, or coordination. We don’t normally think about cognitive or brain fitness. There seems to be a dualism at work when it comes to how we approach fitness, with the mind being thought of as separate from the rest of the body, and treated as such.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. I believe brain training is just as important as strength-training, and cardio. Solving puzzles, playing chess, or playing a musical instrument are all great ways to keep your mind sharp, but the body is generally not very active while doing this. These are all great ways to improve your cognitive fitness, but a more efficient use of time would combine cardio with a brain workout.

This is where juggling comes in, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be juggling. Any physical activity that raises your heart rate and involves novel, precise body movement will suffice. Martial arts, dancing, and rock climbing all give your brain a boost while also providing cardio benefits. You could even use martial arts to take down some very powerful criminals, which would require a lot of thought as you plot how to sneak into their hideout, and dodge bullets from their henchmen and henchwomen, but alas, this only happens in the movies.

I think the benefits of these activities would be similar to juggling, if juggling isn’t for you. The good thing about juggling though is the very immediate feedback you get when you don’t do it right – you keep dropping balls.

What does it mean to be cognitively fit? According to – Goizueta Business School of Emory University, Department of Psychiatry, Atlanta, USA

Cognitive fitness will help you be more open to new ideas and alternative perspectives. It will give you the capacity to change your behavior and realize your goals. You can delay senescence for years and even enjoy a second career. Drawing from the rapidly expanding body of neuroscience research as well as from well-established research in psychology and other mental health fields, the authors have identified four steps you can take to become cognitively fit: understand how experience makes the brain grow, work hard at play, search for patterns, and seek novelty and innovation. Together these steps capture some of the key opportunities for maintaining an engaged, creative brain.

In other words, the brain is like a muscle: Use it or lose it. Just as un-exercised muscle atrophies, so does the brain, making it less sharp, and increasing the risk for developing dementia. While almost any form of exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, this isn’t the same thing as giving your brain a workout.

A regular cognitive workout is a positive feedback loop: the more cognitively fit you are, the more likely you are to try new things, which in turn can improve your cognitive fitness even further, which allows you to try even more new things, etc.

So if you are bored with your current fitness routine, consider doing activities that also give your mind a workout. Cognitive fitness is just as important as body fitness.

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Juggling as cross-training

Cross-training is when exercisers alternate their fitness routine with something different yet complementary to their preferred, usual regimen. It aims to improve overall fitness by addressing whatever shortcomings their usual training has. A good example of this is a runner who occasionally cycles; running mainly uses the calf muscles while cycling mainly uses the quadriceps. By occasionally cycling, a runner can improve his ability to run up hills, since running up an incline relies more on the quadriceps. 

It all makes intuitive sense, although science hasn’t necessarily validated all the various forms of cross-training for athletes. Nevertheless, cross-training is encouraged by coaches and fitness experts to elite athletes and non-elite athletes alike. A runner who occasionally cycles will be more fit than a runner who exclusively runs.

It is my opinion that both juggling and joggling are neglected as cross-training for a variety of athletic activities. Off the top of your head, think of all the various sports that require good hand-eye coordination, and upper body endurance, which juggling is very good at improving. While juggling isn’t the only way to improve hand-eye coordination, it is one of the most convenient and is also a moderate aerobic workout in its own right. 

Consider boxers for example: They regularly run or use a jump-rope as cross-training to improve their overall aerobic fitness and endurance. However, neither of these helps optimize the critically important hand-eye coordination of the boxer, though jump-roping is slightly better than running in this regard. Jump-roping may be good for developing a good sense of rhythm and exercises the arms unlike running(even better if you can do a lot of tricks with the jump rope). It is still not as “good” as juggling.

Now imagine if instead of running or jump-roping a boxer joggled outside for a few miles or “joggled” in place at the gym with 3 balls. I believe this would be an improvement in their cross-training regimen, although I must admit I know very little about boxing. I believe it could improve their hand-eye coordination, unless they are doing something else as part of their training that has already optimized their hand-eye coordination.

If somehow the boxer could work his way up to juggling or joggling 5 balls, he may reap even more benefits. This is speculation on my part. Although I have never boxed, I did study martial arts for a few years which is similar. Juggling/joggling could also be used as cross-training for cycling, rock-climbing, tennis, martial arts, and so many other life-affirming activities. Even all by itself, it is fun and gives your brain a good workout.

For the record, I think joggling has improved my dancing ability, something which I had no ability to do before since I’ve always been a big klutz.