Its World Juggling Day! A day to marvel at the skill of all the jugglers out there, be it the ones who can magically keep multiple balls in the air, or those who are able to maintain a balance between different tasks and responsibilities – the master-multitaskers among us.
Juggling, at least in the traditional sense of the word, is all about objects in motion – as such, they are an intricate, entertaining demonstration of the laws of physics in action. Because of this fact, a number of jugglers have developed scientific juggling routines, where they teach and demonstrate fundamental laws of physics and mathematics through the art of juggling. I can’t help wishing I had a juggling maths teacher at school!
Did you know that juggling can actually stretch your brain? Neuroscientists from the University of Oxford did an experiment to study the effect of juggling on the brain. They took a group of non-juggler adults and measured a cross section of their brains with an fMRI scanner. Half of the group was then enrolled in a juggling course where they had to practice juggling for at least 30 minutes a day, and at the end of a six week training period the brains of the juggling group and the non-juggling control group were again scanned.
The results showed noticeable changes in the white matter of the brains of the juggling group, that is, the fibres that connect the different areas of the brain and that carry messages (electrical signals) between nerve cells.
What is important about this research is not so much that juggling is good for you, but that the adult brain still remains mobile and adaptable beyond childhood. The study shows that, instead of starting to degenerate in adulthood, its possible for the brain to continue to adapt and condition itself to operate more efficiently when faced with a new challenge. Juggling was chosen for the experiment because it’s a particularly difficult motor skill to master – precise body movements, tracking of fast-moving objects and peripheral vision – as such requiring extra effort from the brain.
Study leader, Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg, noted: “Knowing that pathways in the brain can be enhanced may be significant in the long run in coming up with new treatments for neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, where these pathways become degraded.”