March 2, 2016

I BELIEVE THIS: Learning A New Sport May Be Good For The Brain.

Past neurological studies in people have shown that learning a new physical skill in adulthood, such as juggling, leads to increases in the volume of gray matter in parts of the brain related to movement control.

Even more compelling, a 2014 study with mice found that when the mice were introduced to a complicated type of running wheel, in which the rungs were irregularly spaced so that the animals had to learn a new, stutter-step type of running, their brains changed significantly. Learning to use these new wheels led to increased myelination of neurons in the animals’ motor cortexes. Myelination is the process by which parts of a brain cell are insulated, so that the messages between neurons can proceed more quickly and smoothly.

Scientists once believed that myelination in the brain occurs almost exclusively during infancy and childhood and then slows or halts altogether.

But the animals running on the oddball wheels showed notable increases in the myelination of the neurons in their motor cortex even though they were adults.

At the same time, other animals that simply ran on normal wheels for the same period of time showed no increase in myelination afterward.

In other words, learning the new skill had changed the inner workings of the adult animals’ motor cortexes; practicing a well-mastered one had not.

This makes sense.

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