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Exercise and Cognitive Abilities

By Shotokan Karate Leadership School in Santa Rosa, CA

Scientific evidence through neuro-imaging has suggested that physical activity improves a person’s cognitive ability across all ages. Age related brain tissue loss is minimized. Existing cognitive ability is improved. People can allocate more attention towards the environment. Information can be processed much more quickly. 

Survival throughout history

The human brain has an exceptional capacity when it comes to modifying its function and structure as per influences of experience and environment. Physical activity has played an important role at the time of biological adaptation. It ensured that humans survived through a number of catastrophic periods. During this time, foraging, exploration and defense along with cognitive skills were fully integrated to the motor operations of the body so that humans can survive. The hippocampus, a body part which has an important role in processing of memories, is highly influenced by many physical activities. Regions of the brain developed that controlled cognitive abilities. These adaptations led to adequate savings of energy so that a more complex and larger brain can evolve. Humans soon developed the capacity to walk upright and faster than ever before. All these were essential for survival.

Cognitive control means a subset of self-regulatory and goal directed operations which are involved in selection, coordination and scheduling of the computational process underlying action, perception and memory. The important cognitive processes are collectively referred to as “cognitive control”. They include inhibition, cognitive flexibility and working memory. 

Karate and Cognitive AbilitiesRise in cognitive skills

Research has revealed that regular physical activity led to a 50 percent increase in cognitive performance. Tasks needing larger cognitive control became much easier for the concerned individual. All these findings point toward the fact that physical activity helps an individual to be more attentive and improve and preserve cognitive functions considerably over time.

The above findings are applicable to all age groups, including school going children. Physical activity plays a positive role during development. In younger people, physical activity improves all the eight categories of measurement: perceptual skills, achievement, mathematics tests, academic or developmental readiness, intelligence quotient, verbal tests and memory. In fact exercise also helps in cognitive processes which help with maintaining balance and fine motor control. 

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