Look at a gymnasts physique and you can see how training for the sport benefits their bodies. Well-developed skeletomuscular systems, amazing balance and coordination, gumby-like flexibility and the strength to lift their body weight (and often more) with just their own two hands. What is often overlooked is the effects that gymnastics has on the mind. This is understandable as the physical evidence overshadows the mental. Coordination is an example of how gymnastics can better the brain.
Movement and balance not only require a great deal of muscular input but it requires the gymnast to think of multiple situations in parallel. Jump, point, land, tuck, and roll into a handstand. Such a routine takes a tremendous amount of forethought to plan, but thinking while doing is what is necessary to actually pull it off. With this in mind it is easy to see how training in gymnastics may help someone cope with mental stresses and problems.
The mental input required to even train in gymnasts (let alone compete in it), avoid injury and progress is deceptively high. After all, when people watch gymnastics they only see the physical manifestation of the gymnasts mental input. All those signals to leap, cartwheel, flip and balance all come from the brain. All this mental stimulation increases mental plasticity, or the amount of “work” the brain can do. At the very least gymnastics increases the amount of stimuli that the brain can process.
Now barring any head injury, a person training in gymnastics is not only training their muscles to develop fast twitch fibers but they are training the neurons in their brains as well. It turns out that this is a great tool for avoiding the development of neurodegenerative diseases and mental disorders, which usually affect the brains capacity to fire neurons. This is all well and good for those currently unaffected by mental disorders but what about those that are already afflicted with disorders like Alzheimer’s.
A correlation has been drawn which shows that physically stimulating activities that require a great deal of coordination may actually lessen the effects of mental disorders and diseases like Alzheimer’s. Activities like martial arts, rockclimbing and gymnastics all demand a great deal of focus, concentration and mental stamina to get through a single training session. Participating in these types of activities may be just the ticket to keeping a healthy and happy brain.