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Karate Black Belts Have Differences in Brain Structure

Last Updated: August 20, 2012.

Black belts in karate have differences in white matter brain structure that are associated with their voluntary control of movement, according to a study published online Aug. 14 in Cerebral Cortex.

MONDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Black belts in karate have differences in white matter brain structure that are associated with their voluntary control of movement, according to a study published online Aug. 14 in Cerebral Cortex.

To investigate the association between behavior and brain structure, R. Edward Roberts, Ph.D., from Imperial College London, and colleagues performed three-dimensional motion tracking and diffusion tensor imaging on 12 male black belt karate experts and 12 age-matched male controls who exercised regularly but were not experts in martial arts or any other discipline.

The researchers found that, when asked to punch at short range, the karate experts punched with more force and a shorter rise time, and were better able to coordinate the timing of inter-segmental joint velocities. The two groups had significantly different white matter microstructure in the primary motor cortex and the superior cerebellar peduncles, regions critical in the voluntary control of movement. Within the karate group, individual differences in cerebellar white matter integrity were correlated with motor coordination, level of experience, and age at which training began.

"This is the first example of a link between human cerebellar white matter and motor control measures in an elite sporting group," Roberts and colleagues conclude. "This has implications for our understanding of the role of white matter connectivity in motor coordination, the relationship between measures of white matter microstructure and elite performance, and how brain changes may be related to the stage of development in which learning begins."

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