The Physical Therapy Doctor - August 2018

W A N T T O I M P R O V E B R A I N H E A L T H ? G R A B A S WO R D !

Did you know fencing is making a comeback? No longer just for heartsick gentlemen of the Regency era, fencing is increasingly being taught in public schools, displayed in the pages of popular indie comics, and practiced among seniors. Plenty of baby boomers are picking up swords, or “sabers” — and it’s not because they’re preparing to fight dragons. Exercise is important no matter your age, but some activities are more beneficial than others. Research published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise (PSE) suggests activities defined as “open-skill sports,” like fencing, can do more to improve brain health than “closed-skill sports.” OPEN OR CLOSED? The difference between an open-skill sport and a closed-skill sport lies in the dynamic nature of the activity. Going for a jog is great for your heart health, but your body is doing the same thing during the entire workout. This makes it a closed-skill sport. The same goes for swimming; you might have different strokes to choose from when you jump in the pool, but your brain is focused on repeating the action while doing your laps. Open-skill sports require players to respond to unpredictable circumstances in unpredictable ways. Fencing is a great open-skill sport because, while you have to learn the right way to hold the saber and move your body, you also have to think on your feet and react quickly to your opponent’s attacks.

Researchers from the Foro Italico University of Rome believe that it’s the required adaptability that makes open-skill sports so good for your brain. You challenge your body with complex motor movements and your mind with fast decisions. In the study from PSE, the researchers reported that “the open- skill athletes used less brainpower to do the same thing than the closed-skill exercisers did.” WHAT’S THE BEST OPEN-SKILL SPORT? If fencing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other great open-skill sports, including tennis, badminton, basketball, and racquetball. What are you waiting for? Swing by your local rec center and find out what open-skill sport will be your new favorite pastime!

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