Brain Health Benefits of Pickleball from a Neurophysiologist
Nicola is a neurophysiologist who focuses on the intersection of neuroscience and physical performance, and the best exercises are those that challenge your body and mind. “There is a subcategory of exercises that falls under cognitive exercises [called] proprioceptive training,” she shares on the mindbodygreen podcast. “It engages all of your senses: light, sound, touch… everyone should participate in this type of exercise.”
Essentially, proprioception is the sense of where your body is in space; your body uses signals from the outside environment to send them to your brain, and then your brain tells your body how to respond. Your proprioceptive function decreases with age1but the training of these abilities showed improve functional mobility, balance, gait and reduce the risk of falls2 in elderly people.
“You can’t achieve anything without understanding where you are in space and time,” notes Nicola, whether you’re an elite athlete hoping to improve performance or someone simply looking to improve cognitive longevity. Regardless of your specific fitness goals, she encourages regular exercise that improves your body awareness.
For example, she recommends a “really easy exercise” in which you throw a tennis ball against a wall and catch it. “You train [your] visual acuity because you have to see where the ball is going. You are training depth perception, which is part of the visual system. You train reaction time and hand-eye coordination,” she explains. “You do so many different things with just this light ball.”
Now, where does pickleball come into play? Well, this sport doesn’t train your visual acuity as much as the aforementioned tennis ball exercise, since catching the ball with your hand requires much more precision than hitting it with a paddle. But in pickleball, “you have to have hand-eye coordination,” Nicola says. “You have to know where you are in space and time, which is a huge thing for proprioception.”