Playing Tennis Enhances Cognitive Ability

Congratulations to Dr. Ishihara and Professor Mizuno for the acceptance of their new paper: “Relationship of tennis play to executive function in children and adolescents”.

Executive function is a core set of cognitive abilities. Executive function determines our fluid intelligence, that is our reasoning and problem-solving abilities. An example of executive function is working memory or the capacity to hold multiple bits of information. For instance, try to do this mental arithmetic within 5 seconds:

67 x 78.

Challenging? Sure, because our working memory is limited. It is difficult to hold five or six pieces of information in the mind while doing the calculation. Yet, there does exist individual differences so that some people have higher working memory. They are better at reasoning and processing information.

In this study, Dr. Ishihara and Professor Mizuno reported that in 6-15-year-old students, older students had executive function higher than younger students. That is, as a young child grows older, he/she will have greater executive function. This reflects the development maturity of cognitive ability. Meanwhile, students with higher BMIs tended to show executive function lower than those with lower BMIs. This is consistent with the detrimental influence of abdominal fat and obesity on the brain.

More importantly, playing tennis also boosted executive function. Students who played tennis more frequently and for more years showed higher executive function. Say, a student who plays tennis three times per week will have executive function way higher than another student who plays merely once a week. Nevertheless, even among those who play merely once a week, the more total years of tennis experience, the higher the executive function.

Tennis, just like soccer and basketball, is a cognitively stimulating sport. The more you play it, the more enhanced brain capacity you get. I will treat this topic, the benefit of sports and exercise on our brain and mind, in two of my forthcoming books: Fitness Powered Brains: Optimize Your Productivity, Leadership and Performance and Plato’s Insight: How Physical Exercise Boosts Mental Excellence

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