Friday, April 10, 2009

ESPN ARTICLE_4_11_09_Brain Function

Recently, I was reading an article about a Japanese neuroscientist named Ryuta Kawashima who believes that riding your motorcycle can help you improve your brain function.  He is best known for his "Brain Training" software.  His software can typically be found on Nintendo DS which is like a game boy, however many people use the DS for "Brain Training."  Some of the exercises include cross-word puzzles, memory games, and trivia.  
Kawashima got together with Yamaha Motors and did a little scientific study and found that riding motorcycles helps keep drivers young by invigorating their brains. "The driver's brain gets activated by riding motorbikes" in part because it requires heightened alertness, which he found after he conducted a string of experiments involving middle-aged men.  As I read this article, I thought to myself…  Do you really need to complete a study to find out if your brain gets activated by riding motorcycles?  Okay, I’ll bite, so I read on.
"In a convenient and easy environment, the human mind and body get used to setting the hurdle low," he warned. "Our final conclusion is that riding motorcycles can lead to smart ageing." 
A self-professed motorcycle fan, 49-year-old Kawashima cited a new study conducted jointly by Yamaha and Tohoku University, for which he works.
One experiment involved 22 men in their 40’s and 50’s who held motorcycle licenses but had not operated a cycle for at least a decade. They were randomly split into two groups, with one asked to resume riding motorcycles in everyday life for two months, and another that kept using bicycles or cars. Kawashima says research showed the motorcycle-riding team demonstrated improvements in memory, space recognition and other functions of the prefrontal area. This is the area that covers memory, information processing and concentration functions.
"The group that rode motorbikes posted higher marks in cognitive function tests," Kawashima said.  In a test requiring the men to remember a set of numbers in reverse order, the riders' scores jumped by more than 50 percent in two months, while the non-riders' marks deteriorated slightly, he said.
I have to admit, I’m not entirely surprised by the first set of men having a higher score, but I was really surprised to learn that the non-riders’ scores went down. 
The riders also said they made fewer mistakes at work and felt happier.  Of course they did!  Who wouldn’t feel happy riding their motorcycle to and from work every day?  I’ve often wrote in my Post-Gazette column about how commuting on my Harley charges me up for work and helps me wind down before I go home.
I have to be honest, for the longest time I thought the reason that I felt better riding on the bike was because I was getting fresh air thrust into my lungs while going 60 miles per hour on the Parkway North.  After reading this article, it seems that there may be more to it than my “fresh air” theory.
"Mental care is a very big issue in modern society," said Kawashima. "I think we made an interesting stir here as data showed you can improve your mental condition simply by using motorbikes to commute."
In 2003, Kawashima authored “Train Your Brain: 60 Days to a Better Brain”. More recently, he teamed with Toyota to help develop intelligent cars designed to help seniors drive safely. 
Now if only Kawashima could help my wife pull into the garage without scraping her minivan on the front fender, he would be the man!

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