BRAIN HEALTH | 3.21.2016 | BY DAYA ALEXANDER GRANT, PH.D., M.S.
Is being a sports fan good for your brain?
While it’s much more beneficial to actually engage in physical activity yourself, there may be some value in engaging in sports as a spectator.
To understand this, let’s first learn about mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that activate in response to another person’s actions. For example, when you watch someone perform a familiar movement, such as throwing a ball, a subset of your brain cells fire. These same cells, in addition to many others, also fire when you, yourself, throw a ball. Put simply, when you observe someone move, a subset of your brain cells fire as if you’re moving in the same way. This remarkable ability for your brain to respond to another’s behavior may actually help explain empathy – but we’ll leave that for another tip.
Second, the knowledgeable sports fan spends significant time analyzing the game. This high-level of strategic thinking may subtly keep the mind sharp over time.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, watching sports forces us to be present. We know that the ability to remain fully present is critical for optimal brain health.
Now that we’ve justified how watching sports can positively affect your brain, you can comfortably enjoy being a sports fan. Just remember to break up March Madness binge watching with nutritious food, plenty of exercise, and fresh air... and when your favorite team loses, let it go.