Martial Art Training and Cognitive Performance

Cognitive performance includes the processes of attention, memory, processing speed, and executive functioning, which typically declines with aging. Previous research has demonstrated that aerobic and resistance exercise improves cognitive performance immediately following exercise. However, there is limited research examining the effect that a cognitively complex exercise such as martial art training has on these cognitive processes.

Our study compared the acute effects of 2 types of martial art training to aerobic exercise on cognitive performance in middle-aged adults. We utilized a repeated measures design with the order of the 3 exercise conditions randomly assigned and counterbalanced.

Ten recreational middle-aged martial artists (mean age = 53.5 ± 8.6 years) participated in 3 treatment conditions: a typical martial art class, an atypical martial art class, and a one-hour walk at a self-selected speed.

Cognitive performance was assessed by the Stroop Color and Word test. While all 3 exercise conditions improved attention and processing speed, only the 2 martial art conditions improved the highest order of cognitive performance, executive function.

The effect of the 2 martial art conditions on executive function was not different. The improvement in executive function may be due to the increased cortical demand required by the more complex, coordinated motor tasks of martial art exercise compared to the more repetitive actions of walking.


J Hum Kinet. 2015 Oct 14;47:277-83. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2015-0083. eCollection 2015. Martial Art Training and Cognitive Performance in Middle-Aged Adults. Douris P1, Douris C1, Balder N1, LaCasse M1, Rand A1, Tarapore F1, Zhuchkan A1, Handrakis J1. 1Department of Physical Therapy, New York Institute of Technology, Old Westbury, NY.


‘It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us in trouble. It’s the things we know that ain’t so’
– Artemus Ward