[Hooping.org's Editor Philo Hagen gets smarter with hooping.]
by Philo Hagen
We’d all like to improve and sharpen our memory, so what if aerobic exercise not only did that, but it actually preserved gray matter in the brain? And wouldn’t it be cool if the simple act of meditation honed our connections between our reasoning and our emotions? I, for one, would really love to understand and remember more of what I read and hear and see, to be able to fully grasp and hold onto skills and knowledge and information, and to be able to connect all these tiny bits of knowledge together for better understanding of myself, others and the world around me. And now Newsweek Magazine is reporting that all of these things are possible for us in the modern age – and we don’t need anything newfangled to make it happen. In fact, we can up and improve our own personal intelligence all on our own. While some of the solutions Newsweek offer for getting smarter are as simple as getting plenty of sleep and drinking enough water, others involve us being engaged, active and alive.
We’ve been told throughout our lives that the smarts we have are the smarts we got. Our IQ wasn’t something we really had any control over. Now it seems that simply isn’t true. It can in fact be raised and not just by a mere point or two. A groundbreaking study published this fall in Nature revealed that our IQ can rise by a staggering 21 points over 4 years — or fall by as much 18. How does that translate to real life? Cognitive scientist Cathy Price of University College London, who led the research, said, “If an individual moved from an IQ of 110 to an IQ of 130 they’d go from being ‘average’ to ‘gifted.’ And if they moved from 104 to 84 they’d go from being high average to below average.” It all comes down to neuroplasticity, the capacity of the brain to change and to create new neurons. Research shows we have it well into our 60s and 70s. Price says, “The same degree of plasticity [seen in young adults] may be present throughout life.” And the key to keeping our plasticity alive and well can be easily unlocked by stepping inside a plastic ring.
Sharon Begley writes, “Price and her colleagues documented how IQ changes are linked to structural changes in the brain. In the 39 percent of subjects whose verbal IQ changed significantly, before-and-after brain scans showed a corresponding change in the density and volume of gray matter (the number of neurons) in a region of the left motor cortex that is activated by naming, reading, and speaking. In the 21 percent whose nonverbal IQ (any problem-solving unrelated to language, such as spatial reasoning) rose or fell, so did the density of gray matter in the anterior cerebellum, which is associated with moving the hand. Although most of us think of motor skills and cognitive skills as like oil and water, in fact a number of studies have found that refining your sensory-motor skills can bolster cognitive ones. No one knows exactly why, but it may be that the two brain systems are more interconnected than we realize. So learn to knit, or listen to classical music, or master juggling, and you might be raising your IQ.”
For those of us who’ve discovered hooping and have experienced the profoundly magical impact it can have on our lives, for those of us who have pondered how something so simple could become so profound, this latest research becomes very significant. After all, who can argue that the act of hula hooping in and of itself brings together our mental and physical worlds in a way that few other things ever could. Add music and dance and you’re doing even more. Getting smarter through hooping isn’t just a matter of simply expanding and improving the gray matter in our brain. Wait, there’s more.
Begley also notes, “The other brain element you can train in order to raise your IQ is attention. Neuroscientists have shown over and over that attention is the sine qua non of learning and thus of boosting intelligence. Only if you pay attention to an introduction at a party will you remember that cute guy’s name. Effects on attention may explain why stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall help some people some of the time with, especially, recall (hence those drugs’ popularity among students cramming for a test). Both stimulants raise the brain levels of dopamine, the neurochemical that produces motivation and a feeling of reward, which make it more likely that the task at hand will rivet your attention.”
And where have we heard that before? While we’ve known for awhile that hooping is a dopamine producer and have attributed this to the hoop joy that we often experience, what we hadn’t taken into consideration previously was just how hooping raises our ability to show up and give clearer, more grounded and focused attention to other areas of our lives. When my mind is cluttered and full of senseless chatter some time spent within the hoop rectifies this. The spinning of the hoop and the coming together of the physical and mental selves takes us out of our heads and into our bodies – or does it? Perhaps the release of dopamine caused by hooping raises our attention levels to what is happening in the immediate, in the now, like the fact that a hoop is currently rounding it’s way around our left hip, making it the matter of attentive utmost importance. And in our independent, casual and random surveys of hoopers over the years we’ve heard time and time again that the level of focus and attention we have after hooping carries on throughout our day.
While we’ve known that hooping was incredible for our bodies, that we could burn as many calories in an hour as we would during an intense boot-camp style workout, while we’ve known that hooping has the ability to tighten and strengthen our core, while we’ve known that hooping was good for our spirit and mind in a beautifully meditative and calming manner, today we can add one more item to the list of positive aspects we gain by hooping. Hooping expands and improves the gray matter of our brain. Hooping raises our level of attention and ability to focus with the release of dopamine. So the next time someone says that you need to study, step inside your hoop. Hooping makes us smarter people and that is a truly beautiful thing.
Philo Hagen is the Co-founder and Managing Editor of Hooping.org. He’s been spinning things up online and off since April 2003.