Have you have ever wondered which exercises are best for the internal organs and the brain? There is a common misconception that academic studies are the only route to enhancing brain development and IQ. However, research in Neuro-sciences have found that the “key to fully exercising your brain is to engage all the senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell — in non-routine ways.”

This method of exercising the brain is called Neurobics; initially developed by Dr. Lawrence Katz (internationally recognised neurobiologist who was a pioneer in neuron regeneration research). He explains that mental decline is not usually from loss of brain cells as much as it is from loss of communication between brain cells. This can occur when the branches of our nerve cells (dendrites) become lazy or remain idle for too long.

Neurobics research has found that by doing the right kind of mental exercise, we can grow new dendritic connections. The issue with most brain exercises is that they focus primarily on sight; very little attention is given to the other senses (sound, touch, taste and smell). Dr Katz research found that by engaging with all our senses in a “non routine way” we can strengthen our brain and improve our mood, memory and mindset. Thereby, leading to enhanced intellect and IQ.

The tricky part to all this is doing exercises that involve our daily routines. Karate is a practice that frequently involves engaging with all the Neurobic exercises recommended by Neuro Scientists such as Dr Katz. Below are some examples of Neurobics that can be practiced through Karate exercises:

  1. Switch Hands

Using your non-dominant hand results in increased brain activity. In Karate, we often start Kata from the left side; try doing your Kata from the other side. This activity enhances brain stimulation which is an integral part of developing new nerve cell connections.

  1. Try Chopsticks

Remember; This will force you to eat mindfully which is good for your brain, digestion and calorie consumption… and if you are already good at this then use the non-dominant hand.

In terms of Karate; ask your Sensei to teach you Jodo. The handling of a staff will help you develop your senses in your figures and hands. This kind of motor neuron stimulation was a key finding in Neurobics research.

  1. Do Kata or Drills Blind-folded

Research has found that doing activities without the use of eyes can force your brain to use new neural pathways. Subsequently, next time you are in the Dojo try a Kata with your eyes closed.

  1. Practice Karate Upside Down or Backwards

This kind of brain stimulation forces your brain to really think about what your doing and ultimately helps break-down technique. There are many exercises you can do backwards but my favourite is the backward roll; do it moving forward first then switch to the backward direction!

  1. Read or Recite the Dojo Kun or Niju Kun Out-loud

Research in Neurobics found “one of the earliest demonstrations of brain imaging clearly showed three distinct brain regions lighting up when the same word was read, spoken, or heard.” This exercise can be daunting at first but you will get used to it!

  1. Take a New Route to the Dojo

We often tend to do things in autopilot and subsequently, this leads to very little stimulation of the nerve cells. Researchers found that by taking an unfamiliar route activates the cortex and hippocampus.

The equivalent of this in Karate is to draw a map of the Kata you last learnt or learn a completely new routine just for the fun of it!

  1. Engage with ALL Your Senses SIMULTANEOUSLY!

On paper this seems to be difficult but actually it can be done by just having a conversation… however, the digital age stops us from doing this right? Why speak to someone when you can just text, email or message them.

Use your Dojo as a place to remove all devices; engage with your fellow Karateka and Instructors. Ask them questions even if they don’t make sense or are not related to Karate.

  1. Try Something New

Do things you’ve never done before! NEW experiences can often inspire us. In Karate if a student is bored with their training; your Sensei will often detect this and start teaching new movements or Kata. This is to drive stimulation of the hippocampus.

This exercise can be as simple as speaking to someone new or trying a new food or drink. Remember; if boredom ever kicks into your practice, always consult your Sensei, it is their job to make training fun!

  1. Challenge Yourself!

What is your comfort zone? This is something that you should always ask yourself otherwise you will find this habit of being comfortable will follow you around like a shadow! Watch other Martial Artists practice and find something you like. Then try it yourself until you have perfected the movement.

Another way to do this is by connecting with new people (particularly with different interests). Seek out other Karateka (from different styles) or anyone from your life and learn about them.

  1. Do Things the Hard Way

STOP relying on technology! Remember; everything we do in the Dojo is the hard way! Example: learn about the history of Karate through books. I know its tempting to just watch the YouTube video… I do it all the time! But push yourself and find the answers through books and speaking to fellow Karateka.

  1. Meditate

Of all mental exercises, meditation may be the most challenging! There are thousands of research papers in this area that all come to the same conclusion… “The brain benefits of meditation include stress reduction, improved memory, learning ability and mood, increased focus and attention, and even reversal of brain atrophy.”

This is the reason why we do Mokuso every lesson. Other forms of mediation in your Dojo include; Kata, Mindfulness exercises & Chi Kung

  1. Regular Training

Regular training in any physical sport reduces stress by increasing the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. It increases the levels of brain chemicals that promote new brain cell formation and new neural connections.

  1. Be Creative

Creative thought process has the power to focus the brain similarly to meditation. It is known to act as a natural antidepressant and can protect against brain aging.

Remember; Karate has many dimensions, its not just about kicking and punching. Don’t be afraid to branch out into other related arts and experiment with your knowledge. Leverage from your Instructors and Sensei. Ask for their advice in this area. You never know what you might find out about yourself !