Juggling makes health sense

October 22, 2009


I wrote recently about how multi-tasking is actually less efficient than focusing on one thing, and I was delighted to learn of a different form of ‘juggling’ that can improve your health.

If you have any oranges handy, you might want to start using them to learn to juggle as an Oxford University study has shown that it leads to changes in the white matter of the brain. These are the bundles of long nerve fibres that conduct electrical signals between nerve cells and connect different parts of the brain together. What this means in practice is that there is improved connectivity in parts of the brain involved in making the movements necessary to catch the balls.

We tend to think of the brain as being static, or even beginning to degenerate, once we reach adulthood but this research shows that its structure is ripe for change and can condition its own wiring system to operate more efficiently.

You may not want to juggle, but what this shows is the importance in adults of learning a new task or skill. The volunteers in the study had never juggled before and they were given weekly training sessions and asked to practice 30 minutes every day. After six weeks of training changes were seen in the white matter in regions of the brain which are involved in reaching and grasping in the periphery of vision, so that seems to make a lot of sense.

Ability varied, but after the training they all could juggle three balls for at least two cascades and some could juggle five balls and perform other tricks. As someone who never managed to juggle more than two bean bags, and that in slow motion, I am impressed so head out and find a new hobby that shines up that white matter to a glowing halo, and it could be as simple as going for a walk or doing a crossword rather than juggling the family finances!


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