Is Watching Football Making You Smarter?
The Science Behind Why Being an NFL Fan Is Good For Your Brain
Article courtesy of AskMen.com
"Not only is watching football not causing you the kind of brain damage veteran linebackers have to worry about, it may actually be making you smarter."
If you're an American, chances are you watch football. In fact, chances are you watch a lot of football. A recent Harris poll determined that 73% of American men watch football on a weekly basis. A quarter of the football-watching public spends between 6 and 10 hours a week glued to their screens; another 6% spend the equivalent of a part-time job following their favorite teams. Yes, football has replaced churchgoing as America's most popular Sunday pastime. Amen.
And while we here at AskMen certainly have no problem with that, there's a wider perception that, well, time spent eating nachos and cheering on your favorite team from the comfort of your couch is time wasted. That seems to go double if you paint your face and wave a giant foam finger around. Well, cheer up, faithful football fans: we're here to tell you otherwise. Not only is watching football not causing you the kind of brain damage veteran linebackers have to worry about, it may actually be making you smarter.
Memory And Brain Function
Think of what it takes to be a diehard football fan. Chances are you can name every player on the team, when they joined the league, what college they went to, and what their season and career averages are across a half-dozen relevant statistical categories. A study commissioned by the Archives of Neurology found that repeated mental exercises like the ones done by devoted fans memorizing player stats not only provided a temporary boost in cognitive function but actually permanently altered brain structure — in other words, being a football nerd is actually literally improving your brain. That same study found that people who engaged in these mental games for long periods of time actually reduced their risk of contracting Alzheimer's disease in later life, so not only will your Sunday binge-watching make you smarter, it may also help stave off future brain decay (which is a pretty convincing argument if anyone’s trying to ask you to stop watching football and wash the dishes, for instance).
Football fans use language in unique ways, and part of being a fan is understanding the lexicon behind the game. Anyone who’s sat at a bar and listened uncomprehendingly to diehard fans discuss the finer aspects of their sport knows this all too well. A study out of the University of Chicago that used fMRI scans to monitor the brains of hockey players, fans and non-fans during a game found that just watching a sport or listening to a sport being discussed lit up the areas of the brain associated with language and linguistics. Basically, listening to football makes you a better listener in general.
One of the oldest and most important studies on sports spectating and cognition comes from the University of Parma, in Italy. Have you ever been watching a game and witnessed a spectacular feat of athleticism, like a one-hand, over-the-shoulder touchdown catch, or a nimble running back finding the smallest hole in the offensive line. Your jaw hits the floor and you ask how the hell anyone could do that?! Well, it turns out that your brain is silently piecing together the answer. While observing macaque monkeys, researchers discovered that the same areas of the brain that fired up when a monkey reached out to grab a delicious snack from a researcher's hand also fired up when the monkey was only watching that action being performed. They were teaching themselves how to perform the action just by watching. We’re not saying that you’re going to be the next Drew Brees just by watching the Saints QB run right and throw left, but you might just become a little less clumsy.
So the next time your girlfriend, wife or friends decide to hassle you about your watching too much football, sit back, take a long, slow drag of a fine cigar or a swig of your favorite brandy and inform this philistine that they need to avail themselves of the latest neuroscience research, posthaste. Then turn your painted face back to the TV and enjoy the rest of the game in peace.
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