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Updated: October 17, 2009 21:14 IST

Juggle your way to a sharper brain

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Model of the brain. File Photo: S. Thanthoni
The Hindu
Model of the brain. File Photo: S. Thanthoni

Learning to juggle helps one develop a sharper and better coordinated brain, say a new study.

“We tend to think of the brain as being static, or even beginning to degenerate, once we reach adulthood,” says Heidi Johansen-Berg clinical neurologist, University of Oxford, who led the study.

“In fact we find the structure of the brain is ripe for change. We’ve shown that it is possible for the brain to condition its own wiring system to operate more efficiently,” adds Johansen-Berg.

Researchers at the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (FMRIB) set out to see if changes in brain’s white matter could be seen in healthy adults on learning a new task or skill.

“We have demonstrated that there are changes in the white matter of the brain -- the bundles of nerve fibres that connect different parts of the brain -- as a result of learning an entirely new skill,” explains Johansen-Berg.

A group of young healthy adults, none of whom could juggle, was divided into two groups each of 24 people. One of the groups was given weekly training sessions in juggling for six weeks and asked to practise 30 minutes every day. Both groups were scanned using diffusion MRI before and after the six—week period.

“We challenged half of the volunteers to learn to do something entirely new. After six weeks of juggling training, we saw changes in the white matter of this group compared to the others who had received no training,” said study co-author Jan Scholz of FMRIB.

After the training, there was a great variation in the ability of the volunteers to juggle. All could juggle three balls for at least two cascades, but some could juggle five balls and perform other tricks, says an Oxford university release.

All showed changes in white matter, however, suggesting this was down to the time spent training and practising rather than the level of skill attained.

These findings were published in Nature Neuroscience.

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