Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that has grown in popularity, especially among children who are learning how to move their bodies and engage in sports for the first time. Exposing children to a variety of activities and cognitive training from a young age has been proven effective for future sport performance and overall health. Outside of the physical benefits there are also social, emotional, and cognitive benefits from participating in physical activity.
In the spring of 2017 a study looking at taekwondo (TKD) in particular as a physical activity to enhance cognitive function in children aimed to identify certain aspects of how that process occurs. Su-Youn Cho et al states that TKD is effective for improving cognition amongst children. The researchers wanted to understand changes in neuro-plasticity growth factors within blood, cerebral blood flow velocity, and how those two factors effect cognition in children.
Participating in the study were 30 healthy children in elementary school split into two groups of 15. The TKD training lasted 60 minutes 5 times a week over 16 weeks. A Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale was used to assess intensity of the class and maintain consistency (RPE was set to 11-15). Blood samples and Doppler ultrasonography were used to assess the changes in growth factors and blood flow.
In addition to the blood sampling cognitive tests were conducted including Stroop Color and Word Tests. Cognitive testing was completed twice within the 16 week program. The tests included reading different words in black ink, names of colors written in varying colors of ink, and saying the color of the ink that a word name was printed in (RED in blue ink, GREEN, in yellow ink, etc.)
The blood sample measures captured following the 16 week intervention showed differing results amongst the control and experimental groups. The control experienced no significant change in neuroplasticity- related growth factors. However, the group participating in TKD found all three growth factor increased their concentration within the blood sample. Both group did not experience any increase in blood flow velocity following the Doppler ultrasonography post-intervention.
Results of the cognitive tests followed suit with the blood sampling. The TKD group found an enhanced score in the Color-Word test. In both the experimental and control groups there was no significant difference in any of the other cognitive tests completed.
Limitations and Future Research
This study was a small, focused, initial experiment in this specific area of exercise and cognitive training. Next steps would be to identify other exercises that have proven cognitive benefits. The researchers state that it was difficult to distinguish how large the impact of TKD had in addition to other exercise activities the subjects were participating in.
If anything this can stand as another piece of evidence to the benefits of physical activity in the youth population. Consistent activity through various forms of exercise creates a platform for a healthy lifestyle. Whether or not the activity is complex requiring specific training or natural human movement such as swimming or running the basic benefits of staying engaged in an active lifestyle decreases risk factors for future health problems.
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