We all know that it’s important to keep our brains sharp as we get older. What’s so challenging to figure out is how to make that happen. People often talk about reading or doing puzzles as the best ways to keep the mind sharp, but those kinds of mental only activities can only go so far. More and more, scientists are discovering that in order to get the most benefit, you need to do activities throughout life that are both physically AND mentally engaging at the same time. It turns out that fencing is one of the best ways to do that.
Cognitive function means everything
Our brains and bodies are so closely intertwined. We must use them both to live long and happy lives. The more cognitive function we can preserve throughout our years, the better able we are to stay independent and healthy.
This really is one of those cases where you either use it or you lose it. The more active you can be in sport like fencing, a sport that actively engages both the mind and the body, the better able you’ll preserve your cognitive function. In addition to the natural decline in neurological function that comes with age, there are of course diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and more that can cause the mind to slow down even faster. Scientists have shown again and again that engaging the mind through physical activity prevents the decline of function.
That’s not just when you’re older! Participating in fencing keeps your mind sharp throughout your life.
- Childhood fencing
- Teenage fencing
- Adult fencing
- Senior fencing
It’s important to stay sharp at all ages in order to keep your faculties. Staying engaged throughout life is an important part of keeping mental faculties preserved throughout life. Use it or lose it! And fencing is a fun way to use it.
Of everything that can happen to us in life, losing our ability to think clearly is perhaps the biggest challenge that we can face. While practicing fencing isn’t going to guarantee that you don’t face memory issues at some point, it is one of the best things that you can do to prevent those issues.
Adapting to change is the heart of fencing
The key to the whole process is that fencing causes us to adapt to change. You’re looking one-on-one at your opponent, pushing yourself constantly. Anyone who has fenced can tell you that there is no opponent who is the same, no two fencing matches that are alike.
Every moment of a match requires each fencer to look at the situation critically. There’s no such thing as being able to fence your bout exactly as you planned to the point, even if you know your opponent very well.
Fencing uses something called “open motor skills.” That means that the movements in fencing aren’t based on a preplanned set of movements, but rather are dependent upon the actions of the opponent. Gymnastic, skating, and biking are examples of sports that use “closed motor skills,” which aren’t as good for maintaining cognitive function. These sports are self-paced, so the movements don’t have to adapt to opponents. The athlete chooses when to start a movement and when to stop a movement.
A study out of Taiwan in 2014 showed that older adults who practiced open motor skill sports, including fencing, preserved more cognitive function than those who participated in closed motor skill sports. They found this through cognitive testing of older adults who practiced both types of sports.
Having to adapt to new things in a situation like fencing has some amazing effects on the brain, including:
- Engaging learning
- Boosting memory
- Increasing processing speed
- Stretching mental flexibility
- Focusing visual attention
- Greater neural efficiency
People who practice open skill sports like fencing actually use less brainpower to do the same tasks that closed skill athletes use. The brain in fact becomes more efficient when you practice fencing, which is pretty phenomenal when you think about it.
That’s got a lot to do with the choices that fencers have. Not only do you as a fencer have to think of the many different ways that your opponent might attack you, you’ve also got to think about the many different ways that you can respond to that attack. Making all of those quick choices again and again during practice and competition teaches the brain to think in new ways constantly. There’s always a challenge when you’re fencing!
Grow your white matter with fencing
Did you know that fencing actually makes your brain denser?
The white matter in your brain is the stuff that is inside. We often talk about grey matter in the brain, which is the ripply gray stuff on the outside that holds our memories. The white matter is the inner fiber of the brain, and it’s been shown to be critical to maintaining function. White matter is literally the highways that connect the cities of your memory. The more dense your white matter is, the faster and more easily your brain is able to connect information.
Fencing (along with other open motor sports), has been shown to increase the density of white matter in the brain. That means that there are more ways for information to get to and from where it’s stored in your brain.
What’s really cool is that this is the case in CHILDREN and ADULTS! White matter density is something that helps to prevent disease and to improve the ability to think quickly and in innovative ways. We can actually see this improvement in people who practice fencing! How fantastic is that?
The bottom line to remember here is that fencing has a positive physical effect on the brain. The structures within the brain are improved when you pick up that sword!
Fencing is a whole-body sport, and it requires the physical AND mental faculties to be constantly in communication. Sharpen your brain, pick fencing for exercise.