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How the Central Nervous System Benefits from Jumping Rope

How the Central Nervous System Benefits from Jumping Rope

By Michael Sapko 

We all know that jumping rope is an excellent aerobic and cardiovascular exercise, but what you may not know is that the movements of jumping rope exert a number of effects on the central nervous system. We will review the neuroscience of jumping rope, and discuss how jumping rope improves proprioception1, balance and coordination2, attention3, cognition4, and well-being.5

Jumping rope improves proprioception

Proprioception is the medical term for the ability to correctly sense body position. If you have ever witnessed a wide receiver make a seemingly impossible catch in the corner of the endzone, you have seem some highly developed proprioception at work. Most of us develop a reasonable degree of proprioception early in life, but athletes strive to increase this neurological ability to be more competitive.

Jumping rope, it turns out, is a great way to increase proprioception. Researchers conducted a study in which volleyball players, a portion underwent 12 weeks of jump rope exercises and another portion did not. The volleyball players who jumped rope showed significant increases in motor coordination, strength, endurance, and proprioception including joint repositioning and coordination.1

Jumping rope improves balance and coordination

Since jumping rope improves proprioception, it is not surprising that jump rope exercises also improve balance and coordination. Consider a gymnast who is competing on a balance beam—it is critical for her to know the precise location of her joints, limbs, and body in space. But jump rope exercises also improve balance and coordination directly.

Researchers showed that young soccer players who underwent a short program on jump rope training performed significantly better on the Harre circuit test and Lower Quarter Y balance test after training than young soccer players who simply performed soccer drills.2 The Harre circuit test is a specific to measure general coordination6, while the Lower Quarter Y balance test assesses balance in each leg individually.7 Better balance on this test is associated with a lower risk of injury and greater soccer performance.7

Jumping rope improves attention

The typical first-line treatments for kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a stimulant medication. Stimulants increase the amounts of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin released in the brain. While effective, stimulants are associated with certain adverse events.

Ideally, scientists could identify non-stimulant treatments for people with attentional problems. Recent research suggests that rope jumping enhanced neurotransmitter activity of nerve cells involved in attention, but also allowed study participants to sustain their attention better than study participants who did not undergo the rope-jumping exercises.3 Testing included measures of selective attention and cognitive flexibility (e.g., the Stroop test8).

Jumping rope improves cognition

Cognition is a scientific term that essentially describes all forms on conscious thought. Cognition can be thought of as the brain processes that take place to learn, remember, and apply knowledge. Perhaps it is easier to understand cognition by considering diseases in which cognition is impaired, for example, in Alzheimer’s dementia. People with Alzheimer’s dementia have difficulty forming new memories, recalling recent memories, and performing tasks of daily living.

While various forms of exercise can help improve cognition9, we now know that jumping rope improves cognition as well. Researchers randomly assigned a group of children to participate in either jump rope exercise or a reading control group. After 12 weeks, the children who jumped rope had better “cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance, flexibility, and power.”4 However they also performed better on the Tower of London task, indicating that the rope-jumpers had executive function, move planning, and solving abilities. In short, jumping rope improved their cognitive capacity.

Jumping rope improves well-being

Well-being is a state of contentment and happiness that can only really exist in people who have a certain degree of physical, mental, and emotional health. Well-being can be difficult to come by for people with chronic diseases. For example, children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis decreased muscle strength, poorer bone health and lower well-being than healthy kids their own age. While people with chronic illnesses would rather be rid of their disease, in many cases, these diseases have no cure. Thus, improving well-being becomes the primary goal.

It can be difficult to describe well-being, but people can accurately report when they are experiencing high or low levels of well-being. Researchers conducted a randomized controlled clinical trial in which they measured muscle strength, physical fitness, and well-being in a group of children and adolescents with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Half the group was randomly assigned to participate in a 12-week exercise program including jumping rope while the other half did not participate in formal exercise and served as the control group. The researchers found that jumping rope increased strength in the muscles that extend the leg at the hip and knee joints.5 Both groups experienced pain, but jumping rope did not increase pain in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. While not statistically significant, jumping rope tended to improve patients’ well-being.

Reaping the benefits of jumping rope

There are four factors in achieving the central nervous system benefits of jumping rope:

  1. Start slowly. If you are currently sedentary, jumping rope can be challenging. Start by getting the feel of the rope, the movements, and the tempo. Believe it or not, a great deal of proprioception is being developed in the early days of jumping rope.
  2. Know your limits. While pushing yourself is the key to increasing your physical fitness, pushing too hard is not healthy. Always ask your doctor if it is safe for you to start a new exercise routine like jumping rope. It takes time to develop balance and coordination, so stay safe and never risk your own safety.
  3. Vary your routine. Proprioception, balance, and coordination develop by putting the body through different positions dynamically. In other words, (when you are safely able) try changing the way you use your jump rope. Switch between legs, vary the speed, or move the rope in a crossing fashion. These are advanced jump rope techniques, to be sure, by pay off when trying to enhance your central nervous system. They can also be a workout for your attention and cognition centers in the brain.
  4. Keep track of your results. Nothing helps with motivation and well-being like seeing results. Track your own well-being with a psychometric instrument that scientists use—the WHO-5 Well-Being Index is fast and reliable.10 It is only 5 questions and can provide a score before you start your jump rope training, after you have mastered the basics, and each time you change up your jump rope routine. You can also keep track of your progress by using a smart jump rope like the FRESH FIRE Smart Jump Rope. This smart jump rope counts your jumps, tracks your time spent jumping rope, gamifies the exercise, and coordinates with a smartphone application that allows you to track your ongoing progress.

Author's Bio



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