Comparing the effectiveness of karate and fitness training on cognitive functioning in older adults-A randomized controlled trial

J Sport Health Sci. 2016 Dec;5(4):484-490. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2015.09.006. Epub 2015 Sep 21.


Background: Recent studies demonstrate a slowdown in deterioration of cognitive functioning in old age through aerobic training. There is evidence that the combination of aerobic, balance, and coordination exercises leads to an improvement or maintenance of cognitive functions. Such age-related exercises can especially be found in East Asian martial arts. The purpose of the current study is to verify whether karate training for older adults improves cognitive functioning and, if an improvement can be found, which cognitive fields are influenced.

Methods: Eighty-nine older women and men (mean age: 70 years) participated in this study. The participants were randomized into 2 intervention groups (karate group and fitness group, duration of intervention: 5 months) and a control group. All participants had to accomplish a cognitive test battery before and after the intervention. In a secondary study the karate group had an additional intervention for another 5 months.

Results: The results show that there is a significant improvement in motor reactivity, stress tolerance, and divided attention only after the 5-month karate training period. Additionally, the results of the secondary study indicate further improvements after 10 months.

Conclusion: The 5-month karate training can help to enhance attention, resilience, and motor reaction time, but a training period of 10 months is even more efficient.

Keywords: Cognition; Divided attention; Karate; Motor reactivity; Older adults; Physical exercise.