Coaching can train the brain and help fight cognitive decline – ScienceDaily

Coaching can train the brain and help fight cognitive decline – ScienceDaily

Coaching can train the brain and help fight cognitive decline – ScienceDaily

Orienteering, which relies on athleticism, navigation skills and memory, could be useful as an intervention or preventative measure to combat dementia-related cognitive decline, according to new research from McMaster University.

The researchers hypothesized that the physical and cognitive demands of orienteering, which integrates exercise with navigation, may stimulate parts of the brain that our ancestors used for hunting and gathering. The brain evolved thousands of years ago to adapt to the hostile environment by creating new neural pathways.

These same brain functions are not as necessary for survival today due to modern conveniences like GPS apps and readily available food. The researchers suggest it’s a case of “use it or lose it”.

“Modern life may lack the specific cognitive and physical challenges the brain needs to thrive,” says Jennifer Heisz, research chair of Brain Health and Aging Canada at McMaster University, who oversaw the research. “In the absence of active navigation, we risk losing this neural architecture.”

Heisz points to Alzheimer’s disease, in which loss of the ability to find one’s way is among the first symptoms, affecting half of all affected individuals, even in the mildest stage of the disease.

In the study, published today in the journal PLoS ONEresearchers interviewed healthy adults, ages 18 to 87, with varying degrees of orienteering experience (none, intermediate, advanced, and elite).

People who practice orienteering reported better spatial navigation and memory, suggesting that adding elements of orienteering into regular exercise could be lifelong beneficial.

“When it comes to brain training, the physical and cognitive demands of coaching have the potential to give you more bang for your buck compared to exercise alone,” says lead author Emma Waddington, a graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology who designed the study. and is a coach and member of the national orienteering team.

The object of orienteering is to navigate running as fast as possible over uncharted territory, finding a series of checkpoints using only a map and compass. The most skilled athletes must efficiently switch between multiple mental tasks, making quick decisions while moving across terrain at a fast pace.

The sport is unique because it requires active navigation while making rapid transitions between parts of the brain that process spatial information in different ways. For example, reading a map relies on a third-person perspective of the environment. The orienteers must quickly translate this information relative to their own positions within the environment, in real time, while running the course.

It’s a skill that GPS systems have developed in modern life, researchers say. This can affect not only our ability to navigate, but also affect our spatial processing and memory more generally, because these cognitive functions rely on overlapping neural structures.

The researchers suggest there are two simple ways to incorporate more guidance into daily life: turn off GPS and use a map to find your way when traveling, and challenge yourself – spatially – by using a new route for your run, walk or bike ride. .

“Orienteering is a sport for life. You can often see participants aged between 6 and 86 practicing orienteering,” says Waddington. “My long-term involvement in this sport allowed me to understand the process behind learning navigational skills and I was inspired to research the uniqueness of orienteering and the scientific significance this sport may have on an aging population,” says Waddington.

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