Many believe the martial arts are only for the very young and very fit — but, as research shows, that’s simply not true. People think they’re too old or too out of shape to perform many of the exercises in a typical martial arts program. However, for those seeking a good workout, Tae Kwon Do offers some excellent fitness benefits for mature practitioners, including improvements in balance, flexibility, endurance and mental health.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Sport and Health Science examined 89 men and woman (average age 70) and determined that after five months of martial arts training, participants experienced “significant improvement in motor reactivity, stress tolerance and divided attention,” including improved memory. And the combination of aerobic, balance and coordination exercises helped boost cognitive functions. A secondary study proved further cognitive improvements after 10 months of training. If 70-year-olds are experiencing such major improvements by training in the martial arts, imagine what a 45-year-old can achieve in one year of study.
Not only are martial arts like Tae Kwon Do good for the brain, but they are also good for the body. Balance is a key component. As people age, their strength, vision and sensory perception decrease, making balancing more difficult. Without good balance, people are more susceptible to falling and injuring themselves. Martial artists incorporate balance in the stances, kicks and other techniques they execute.
Stretching is also important in martial arts training. While older adults may not be able to do splits, stretching is necessary to keep muscles flexible and strong. If one doesn’t stretch regularly, muscles shorten and tighten and won’t fully extend when needed, sometimes causing injury. The more flexible a person is, the easier it is for him or her to perform routine and repetitive tasks without harming areas such as the back, hamstrings and shoulders.
Martial arts practice also incorporates endurance training through aerobic exercise. This helps improve cardiovascular, respiratory and muscular health — crucial elements for people of all ages. Kicking targets, sparring with an opponent and performing basic line drills are just some of the ways students can elevate their heart rate.
In addition to physical betterment, many styles of martial arts focus on improving the mind, body and spirit. The “Do” in arts such as Tae Kwon Do translates to “The Way.” This philosophy guides practitioners by improving their mental well-being through both their training and everyday activities.