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Does BJJ make you smarter? Science suggests so

That jiujitsu and other martial arts hone the muscles and calm the mind is something the world already knows. But could practicing fighting also strengthen the brain and make people more intelligent?

A new study by the respected Brazilian neuroscientist Sidarta Ribeiro, from Rio Grande do Norte Federal University, suggests the answer is yes. 

Sidarta's thesis involved other researchers, like Valter Fernandes, and is based on a test done with 67 children between 8 and 13 years old, divided into two groups. For four months, the first group practiced capoeira, and the second group waited. 

The results are in an article in the specialized periodical Mental Health and Physical Activity. The comparison between the groups revealed not only an improvement in coordination among the kids that took capoeira, but also a positive effect on functions like memory, self-control and attention. 

The effects and results are still modest, but they open up a path for new studies. And, most importantly, they seem to confirm what other scholars know about brain health. 

According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief of the neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, physical exercises are essential to people who wish to have a healthy mind nowadays. 

Physical activity not only relaxes the mind, but, he claims, also stimulates brain growth. That happens because exercising releases BDNF, a substance produced by the body that helps stimulate brain growth. 

There's a second ingredient, with no side effects, that helps the person become intelligent and is commonly found in the routine of jiujitsu practitioners. It's called learning. As Gupta points out, learning new things—the more challenging, the better—is an essential habit for the human brain to have. 

A big win for jiujitsu; after all, one of the biggest differentiators of Rickson Gracie's martial art is the complexity and the immense volume of possibilities in every training session, capable of presenting new situations and challenges daily. 

Apart from the physical exercise and the learning of new things, another benefit to the brain lies in not burning those neurons by thinking of the past or worrying about the future. Bringing your focus to the present is a common recommendation by neurologists. Hence the important role of meditation, breathing and jiujitsu as ways to focus in the here and now—otherwise you tap out without even knowing where the attack came from. 

As Rickson says, jiujitsu is meditation in motion. 

The fourth big trump card for a healthy mind is real connection with people, which explains why social media seems to get so many people feeling down. 

And few activities create bonds and connections as strong as jiujitsu and the martial arts. After all, the physical contact, confidence and intimacy that arise between training partners solidify special friendships, with reflections seen in your social life and your community life. 

So, are you exercising your brain today? Have a good one.