Athletes Think Faster

BlogHer Original Post

Can playing sports actually help focus your brain? Researchers are starting to think so.

An article published in The Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine earlier this month shows research that seems to support the theory that athletes excel not only at sports, but at every day tasks. We all know that athletes are more likely to be in excellent physical shape than someone like me. Sure, I exercise and occasionally play a game of softball or basketball, but I am a writer. I spend most of my time sitting in front of my computer. While I expect a soccer player to be able to run faster than me or have more physical endurance, I like to think that I am mentally agile.

Perhaps I am just special (again, I find myself in need of the sarcasm font) but researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have proven that the athletes made quicker decisions than the non-athletes in a study that tested how quickly and safely students could cross a trafficked road.

From Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times:

The student athletes completed more successful crossings than the nonathletes, by a significant margin, a result that might be expected of those in peak physical condition. But what was surprising — and thought-provoking — was that their success was not a result of their being quicker or more athletic. They walked no faster than the other students. They didn’t dash or weave gracefully between cars. What they did do was glance along the street a few more times than the nonathletes, each time gathering slightly more data and processing it more speedily and accurately than the other students.

“They didn’t move faster,” said Art Kramer, the director of the Beckman Institute and a leader in the study of exercise and cognition, who oversaw the research. “But it looks like they thought faster.”

That is fascinating.

LJAYS_vs_ISU-234I am a musician. I've seen tons of studies that show music is good for the mind. We know music is math based and kids that can read music tend to do better in school. The stereotypical child that takes orchestra in school usually gets pretty good grades. (Yes, I realize that the parent that encourages their child to play the a stringed instrument is also likely to be concerned with academics, but let's just roll with the stereotype for now.) But we rarely think of the jock -- the wrestler, the basketball star, or a football player -- as being a straight A student, or even all that bright in the first place. I am not saying that the perception is fair; I am talking about societal archetypes -- think The Breakfast Club.

Sure, we all know the wide receiver that was valedictorian, or the girl on the soccer team that got a full academic scholarship to an Ivy League school, but it isn't the first thing you think of when you think athlete.

But maybe it should be. You've heard of "the zone," right?

Sports emphasize the importance of mental conditioning for athletes in order to yield success on and off the field.

When an athlete is “in the zone,” the synchronization of mind and body allows the individual to excel beyond mental and physical challenges; the results of the revelatory study performed at the Beckman Institute show exciting new evidence that skills conditioned by athletes may impact their mental dexterity and the way they think entirely.

- Jessica Rutledge, The Informer

Sports offer physical and mental conditioning. This might just be what is giving our athletes the edge on processing information. It seems to hold true for both individual and team sports.

It is fascinating research and it makes me very happy that I signed my kids up for t-ball. Now I just have to up my own game. Mind, body and spirit right? Well that and I don't want my kids thinking faster than me. That is how a person ends up buying a pony.

BlogHer Contributing Editor, Sarah can also be found at Sarah and the Goon Squad and Draft Day Suit.

 

Photo Credit: White & Blue Review

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