Learning a New Sport Makes You Smarter

I don’t like being a beginner at things. I don’t like that initial period of not being good at something. It’s uncomfortable. It’s awkward. It can make me feel pretty foolish and everything seems so hard. But then again, I love being good at things, so it’s a growing process I must begrudgingly accept.

If you avoid trying new things, you’ll never become really good at anything. It’s the whole “practice makes perfect” deal (although ‘perfect’ is unrealistic and impossible, but that’s for anther day). But did you know that if you stop learning new motor skills, your brain will lose out on big benefits?

As we age, the tendency is to challenge the brain intellectually (if at all). We read, do crossword puzzles, maybe try to learn a new language. But, very rarely do we challenge our brains kinesthetically. In fact, after our early twenties, few of us pursue new movement activities. Why? Because it’s not fun to be a beginner or to feel like a klutz. Especially as we age. Perhaps learning new sports or movements is seen as something meant for the young. But movement is for everyone, especially for older adults who will most appreciate the brain boosting benefits.

While intellectual pursuits increase neuroplasticity and regular exercise increases the number of brain cells, honing your motor skills can increase gray matter (dense brain cells) in the brain. Intriguingly, it also may lead to a temporary increase in the myelination of neurons (a process which insulates the neurons and allows messages to be sent more rapidly and smoothly). This is significant because scientists once believed that myelination significantly slowed or stopped after childhood, which doesn’t seem to be the case. Essentially, learning new movement activities—like juggling, dance or how to ride a bike—keeps your brain younger.

According to a 2014 study, mice who were run on an irregular wheel that required a different strut than a traditional wheel experienced a period of increased myelination of their motor neurons, while mice who continued to run on the same traditional wheel did not. This shows that it is not simply exercise that improves the brain, but new movement patterns that continue to stimulate and ‘tighten’ the brain. And while the study was conducted on mice, the results seem promising for humans as well.

So go out and pick up a cheap tennis racket; a set of juggling balls; a pair of ballet shoes. Yes, I understand that learning new movement patterns is hard. I understand it can feel stupid and embarrassing. But, you will get better. With a little practice, you’re not only developing an interesting new skill and having loads of fun, but you’re improving your brain health, too!

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67 comments

Paulo R
Paulo Reeson2 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson4 months ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson4 months ago

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Paulo R
Paulo Reeson4 months ago

ty

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W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thanks.

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William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

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Jerome S
Jerome S1 years ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Siyus C
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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