Learning a martial art is an effective way to improve your physical and mental health at any age. In a martial arts class, students exercise their bodies and minds, whether they’re engaged in Karate training or Mixed Martial Arts.
While it probably won’t come as a surprise that martial arts practice can get your body in shape, it may surprise you to learn that students who have practiced martial arts experience significant mental benefits, including improved memory.
What’s the Link Between the Martial Arts and Improved Memory?
One of the things that makes the martial arts unique is that students learn to build a strong connection between their bodies and minds. Many of the skills taught by instructors can be mastered only when a student focuses, eliminating distractions and putting their full attention on the task at hand.
In other words, martial arts training is also a form of cognitive training. Students learn to embrace the meditative aspect of performing the skills they learn, and ultimately, this is a skill that improves their cognitive function as well as their physical fitness.
Brain Training in Martial Arts Class
Now, let’s review some of the specific brain training benefits you’ll experience in a typical martial arts class.
Attention and Focus
A person’s working memory is most likely to hold onto new information when they are able to pay attention and focus on a task or subject. In a typical martial arts class, students must give their full attention to the instructor as they demonstrate new skills with proper technique.
A student’s brain must work to match the instructor’s words with their movements, focusing to be able to replicate the movement when the time comes. They must learn when the movement is appropriate, what it is called, and how to do it–all at the same time. This process helps with both short-term and long-term memory.
Good circulation may not seem to be connected to memory, but it is. When a person’s circulation is healthy, blood and oxygen are constantly flowing through the brain. Memory and focus are at their sharpest when the brain is energized and getting what it needs to be alert.
Regular exercise improves circulation. It can also reduce blood pressure. Both things can lead to improved cognitive abilities, including improved memory.
Complex Problem Solving
Another skill that martial artists learn is how to solve complex problems while performing complex movements. In any spar or fight, a martial artist must evaluate their opponent’s body language, predict their intentions, and react appropriately.
How is problem-solving related to memory? The student must call upon their memory, both physical and intellectual, to determine the best response. Each time a specific skill is pulled from memory and used, it strengthens the memory, making it easier to access the next time it’s needed.
Stress and anxiety can make it difficult to think rationally and may negatively impact executive function, making memory unreliable. Regular physical activity triggers the release of feel-good hormones called endorphins, which reduce stress and anxiety. The result is a brain that stays sharp, unhindered by worry about the future or past regrets. Said another way, stress management is also memory management.
There’s no denying that a good night of sleep can boost your memory, making you feel mentally sharp during the day. People who exercise regularly are more likely to feel tired when bedtime rolls around, and less likely to awaken during the night or feel tired in the morning. A well-rested person will find it easy to access their working memory whether they’re at their job, with friends, or in a class.
The key takeaway here is that many aspects of a martial arts class, including the physical movements, the absorption of new information, and the creation of a strong mind-body connection, can improve memory. As such, the mental benefits are significant for people of all ages, but especially for older adults.