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Brain Wellness Facts : Juggling is good for your brain's health!

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Dear DOBARA Friends and Family,

Last week as I began to better understand just how much potential DOBARA’s Virtual Wellbeing for Seniors and Caregivers holds, I was captured by Wellbeing Wednesday’s “Toss a Ball” suggestion. It resulted in a nice wave of posts including some sharing wonderful memories of tossing a ball.

So, here’s this week’s Brain Wellness Fact:

Juggling is good for your brain’s health!

And we can prove it! Here’s a brief summary of the lecture I give each term to explain neuroplasticity and how it was shown to take place in an amazingly short period of time.

I remember reading a then newly published 2004 German study in NATURE that showed that juggling can change the structure of the brain. Here’s how this elegantly designed study worked.

Day one: First MRI brain scans of the two dozen subjects were the baseline images.

Phase I Intervention: 3 months of jugging without any pressure but a goal to practice and see what happens

Day 90: Second MRI scans of the same brains were taken and compared with their first images.

RESULTS: WOW! The structure of their brains had CHANGED. Neuroplasticity was REAL and it happened so quickly. These scientists revealed that the

‘Use it and Improve it’ hypothesis was true and that neuroplasticity was dependent upon the activity you provide your brain.

Phase II Intervention: The subjects were not allowed to juggle for 3 months.

Day 180: The third and final MRI brain scans were compared to the second.

Another WOW! Those larger brain areas seen in the second MRIs had atrophied and were visibly smaller. This innovative research team had also confirmed that the 'Use it or Lose it' hypothesis was true.

Since that breakthrough study in 2004, there have been many other juggling studies.

Perhaps the most important was a 2009 Oxford study revealing that juggling not only increased the physical structure of the brain it also improved the way the brain functions.

Here’s how the lead researcher described their findings:

“We’ve shown that (by practicing juggling it) is possible for the brain to condition its own wiring system to operate more efficiently.”

Practice suggestions:

Please consider getting some soft juggling sacks or maybe start with some softly rolled-up socks. Find an area in or near your home where you can make your brain healthier as you practice your juggling. Here are some of the tips we offer our students:

(1) Begin with one sock or bag before you add a second.

(2) Practice with two for quite a while learning new ways to use two bags before you add a third.

(3) juggle facing a wall with a table, couch or bed between you and the wall. This will help you invest your time practicing instead of spending so much of that time bending offer to retrieve those missed catches.

(4) Keep this in mind: Technically, tossing a single juggling sack up into the air, even just a “smidgen”, is juggling.

Finally, here are my top evidence-based reasons that your brain will thank you investing some of your time juggling:

· Juggling is good for any age. Both younger and older benefit.

· Juggling builds hand-eye coordination and may even promote reading abilities.

· Juggling can increase your oxygen intake and each slightly deeper breath counts!

· Juggling enhances brain development and it can last for weeks even after you stop practicing.

· Juggling shows how a Growth Mindset works. Mistakes are evaluated and adjustments are made. With practice, practice and practice -- your growth mindset skills will improve.

· Juggling can be both energizing as you learn and calming as you improve.

· Improvement will follow dependent upon the time and focus that’s invested.

· Juggling puts you in control. You decide where to start and when to smile and say “That’s enough . . . for now.”


Roger Anunsen is a brain health educator, cognitive intervention designer, author, program consultant and personal cognitive intervention coach based in Oregon. His gerontology courses include The Aging Mind, Applied Legal & Policy Issues in Aging and Cognitive Activity Design.

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