2018, Volume 14
Hard martial arts for cognitive function across the lifespan: a systematic review
Liye Zou1, Tao Huang2, Tracy Tsang3, Zhujun Pan4, Chaoyi Wang5, Yang Liu6, Li Sun7, Huiru Wang2
1Department of Sports Science and Physical Education, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
2Department of Physical Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China
3Discipline of Child and Adolescent Health, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
4Department of Kinesiology, Mississippi State University, Starkville, United States
5Department of Physical Education, Jilin University, Changchun, China
6Sensorimotor Neurophysiology Laboratory, Indiana University, Bloomington, United States
7School of Humanities and Social Science, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, China
Author for correspondence: Huiru Wang; Department of Physical Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China; email: wanghrsjtu[at]163.com
Background and Study Aim: Martial arts are offensive and defensive combat systems, characterised by coordinated and cognitively complex movements. Martial arts are typically classified into “hard” and “soft” styles. Hard styles focus on quick and forceful movements involving striking, kicking, blocking, grabbling, and takedown (e.g., karate, taekwondo, kung fu and judo). The aim of this review is in the existing scientific literature knowledge about pertaining to the effects of martial arts on cognitive function across the lifespan.
Material and Methods: Both electronic and manual searches of the English-language articles published were conducted without limiting year of publication. The rigorous critical appraisal was independently performed, resulting in the inclusion of 18 studies.
Results: Study results from the existing scientific literature indicate that martial arts (karate, taekwondo, kung fu, and judo) can improve some selected aspects of cognitive function and neurotrophic factors (serum BDNF and IGF-1) associated with brain health. Specifically, martial arts could be promising approaches to potentially stimulate the development of cognitive function in children and adolescent, and decelerate cognitive decline in middle-aged and older adults.
Conclusions: Hard martial arts may be beneficial for improving some selected aspects of cognitive function across the lifespan. Because only a few studies used randomised controlled trials, a definitive conclusion regarding the beneficial effects of martial arts on cognitive functions is still difficult to be made at this stage. To better understand the effects of martial arts for cognitive function across the lifespan, future research should involve larger sample sizes, well-controlled designs, standardised assessments and long-term follow-ups, measures of health status, exercise intensity, leisure time activities, and session attendance rates.
Key words: inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, brain health, neurotrophic factors, working memory