May 20, 2009

Sports: Our bodies' are learning tools.

I've been thinking about writing on this for some time now. Some anthropologists suggest that one reason for the growth in the human brain over the past 3 million years is due in part to our physical expertise growing. As we became better stone throwers our diet could improve because we took down more creatures with our rocks. This made selection pressure to throw more accurately and, because throwing a rock at a moving target requires large amounts of brain capacity, judge the rate of speed and direction of the target, judge the force, direction, and timing of your throw, coordinate these judgements to ensure your rock intersects with the water buffalo temple or neck at a high rate of speed . . . . Our brains grew.

I've taken this idea to new extremes and argued with Mary that I need to go watch football or golf or soccer to research brain growth! While Mary doesn't buy this she is supportive of my daily workouts on rollerblades or skis, my crunches, twists, bends, and lunges. She can see not only changes in my body shape, but my mental capacity is clearly enhanced when I engage in varied activities and have a chance to increase my heart rate for an hour or more everyday.

Couple a better diet with the learning required to engage in new activities, like taking down a water buffalo, & over a few hundred generations we see clear brain growth. This same idea has scientific support on phenotypes as well. The more tuned your body, the better your posture, the stronger your muscles, the healthier your blood, the more active your mind. You can use your physical structure to build a new shape to your body (training) just as you can use your thoughts to rewire your habits. A few five minute "practice" sessions thinking about a new complicated task such as playing scales on a musical instrument will help you with that task the next time you do it physically. Just thinking about doing a thing builds the neurons in your motor cortex allowing your brain to work better the next time you do that thing!

Try it!

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