How Boxing Boosts Brain Health and Prevents Dementia
It is well-established that exercise is essential to brain health. Moderate to high intensity workouts instantly boost brain power and a consistent exercise routine can even prevent or delay onset of neurodegenerative diseases.
Though boxing has not been studied specifically, the physical and cognitive challenges posed by non-contact boxing training could have a special edge over other forms of exercise in promoting brain health.
“The mental challenge of boxing is so stimulating - you have to pay close attention, maintain combos in mind and implement them, think very fast on your feet, coordinate various muscle groups, and maintain good form simultaneously,” says Dr. Brody Magid.
This means that boxing training can help the brain in two ways: physically and mentally. Not only are boxers getting the benefits of high intensity exercise, but they also get a mental challenge.
How Non-Contact Boxing Training Benefits the Brain:
- Increasing physical fitness
- Reducing inflammation
- Combatting risk factors for cardiovascular disease
- Strengthening the heart
- Increasing blood flow to the brain
- Improving working memory and reaction time
- Bolstering cognitive reserve
Although there aren’t specific scientific studies on boxing just yet, many boxing trainers have already started offering programs like Rock Steady, a modified boxing class designed for early-stage Parkinson’s patients. Dr. Brody Magid notes that despite a lack of research on the therapeutic effects of boxing on Parkinson’s, research has shown that agility training, a cornerstone in boxing, can reduce disease progression.
Thinking on Your Feet
A big part of working with patients who have memory problems - and in preventing memory problems - is challenging the brain. Learning new things is critical to building up cognitive reserve.
“When we look at how cognitive challenge works, novelty is what helps,” explains Dr. Brody Magid. “If you do something that is difficult but similar each time, it doesn’t really change your brain very much because it doesn’t challenge you. We suggest that people diversify their activities to optimize novelty.”
To illustrate this point, she used the example of a patient who usually does crossword puzzles being advised to try Sudoku, or a golfer who tries to switch their stance. Challenging your brain with new tasks or different approaches is what boxing drills are all about.
“When you’re doing a complex combo and you’ve got multiple steps, you have to be focused. You’re moving very fast, you’re processing very quickly while you’re also thinking about form, power, and technique,” says Dr. Brody Magid. “There’s no time to think. It stands to reason that all of this would be a very good way to challenge the brain.”
Knocking Out Stress
Dr. Brody Magid points out that stress negatively impacts our brains both psychologically and physically. One of the most effective stress relievers is exercise.
“There have been thousands of studies on exercise and mental health. Even 15 minutes a day helps people report better emotional wellbeing,” says Dr. Brody Magid. Moreover, the use of breathing and mindfulness in boxing adds to its stress relieving power. The overall reduction of stress does wonders for your mental health and your brain function.
“As we’re trying to promote brain health, one of the main interventions is managing stress through meditation and mindfulness. I think boxing has that element, for sure,” says Dr. Brody Magid.
Bringing the Fight to Dementia
Research has shown the short- and long-term benefits of exercise on brain health. Exercise is perhaps the most powerful tool we have in preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Dementia. The mental challenges posed by complex boxing drills may provide even more benefits for your brain, potentially improving reaction time and working memory.
Next time you’re battling the bag trying to count out a complex punch combination, just remember: you’re investing in your brain, your body, and fighting dementia!
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The Author: Mollie McGurk is a fitness enthusiast who has trained in boxing, HIIT boxing, kickboxing and MMA for over 10 years. Her local boxing gym has hosted champion instructors including the ‘Iceman’ John Scully and Israel ‘Pito’ Cardona. Mollie has also studied personal training through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) program.
Contributor: Julie Brody Magid, Psy.D. is the clinical director of McLean Hospital’s Memory Disorders Assessment Clinic in the Center of Excellence in Geriatric Psychiatry. She oversees clinic operations and conducts comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations with older adult patients who are referred for memory disorders and other cognitive problems. Dr. Brody Magid specializes in providing neurocognitive and psychodiagnostic evaluation and treatment for patients with traumatic/acquired brain injury, dementia, movement disorders, and neuropsychiatric illnesses.