11:26 13 October 2009
New research has discovered that juggling could mean much more for you than simply a way to impress people. The popular party trick boosts brain power.
In a study, published in 'Nature Neuroscience', scientists found a 5% increase in white matter the complex communications network in the brain.
Researchers discovered enhanced connections in the volunteers of the study. 24 healthy young adults, none of whom could juggle, were divided into two groups.
One of the groups was given weekly training sessions in juggling and were required to practice 30 minutes each day, the other 12 continued as normal.
After the six weeks training, the 12 jugglers could perform at least two continuous cycles of the classic three ball cascade routine.
Both groups underwent an MRI scan before and after the training, the results of which were compared.
At the six week mark, a 5% increase in white matter was shown in a rear section of the brain called the intraparietal sulcus for the jugglers.
White matter is the name given to parts of the brain and spinal cord responsible for communication between the various grey matter regions and between the grey matter and the rest of the body.
Grey matter refers to the areas of the brain that are mainly composed of the heads of nerve cells.
This sparked changes in an area of the brain known as the parietal lobe - which has previously been linked to the nerves that react to us reaching and grasping for objects in our peripheral vision.
The researchers also found similar differences in grey matter, some of which were localised to the same area as the white matter changes.
The results seemed to be long-lasting as well, as the changes in both types of brain matter were still apparent when subjects were scanned again four weeks later after they had last juggled.
Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg, who led the research team, said: "MRI is an indirect way to measure brain structure and so we cannot be sure exactly what is changing when these people learn.
"Future work should test whether these results reflect changes in the shape or number of nerve fibres, or growth of the insulating myelin sheath surrounding the fibres.
"Of course, this doesn't mean that everyone should go out and start juggling to improve their brains.
"We chose juggling purely as a complex new skill for people to learn. Juggling is a complex motor skill that requires accurate bimanual arm movements, grasping and visual tracking in the periphery, precisely those functions in which the apparently structurally altered brain regions specialise.
"This provides, to the best of our knowledge, the first evidence for training-related changes in white-matter structure in the healthy human adult brain."
The new finding could have positive implications for treatment of diseases like multiple sclerosis.
Further testing is to be carried out in the future.
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