By Lewis Budden  |  24 July 2019   

The UK’s National Health Services now publicly encourages martial arts as a form of keeping fit and improving health. Unsurprising to us, as most martial arts were a way to stay healthy and battle-ready for thousands of years.

The NHS recently included links on its website that encourage people to get involved with local clubs for combat sports and martial arts. While it's unclear why it took until now to add it, here are the reasons why the British government is endorsing martial arts.

Mental Well-Being

Many martial arts focus on the promotion of health, both mentally and physically. While technical skills are the focus, confidence, and self-esteem provide a significant boost in mental health.

On March 25th, 2015, the Deputy Prime Minister and the English Karate Council (EKC) publicly endorsed the launch of the Mental Health Charter for Sport with the Sport and Recreation Alliance. This was done to tackle the stigma of mental health while promoting martial arts as a way to enhance recovery.

Quality of Life

The government and the NHS promote keeping active as a critical way to stay healthy due to how activity affects sleep, concentration, and self-esteem. Combining the desire to be fit with martial arts, this promotes eating well, drinking sensibly, and keeping in touch with friends and family.

Due to the damaging nature of a poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption affecting you both emotionally and physically, these are apparent factors to eliminate when striving for the next belt level. The support factor of keeping a social network around you emphasizes your ability to help keep them safe and well protected with the skills learned.

The dojo is a natural community of like-minded people who want what’s best for you. These suggestions were always available from the NHS’s website; however, recently, there is now more information on the martial arts pages linking these critical factors as a way to stay active and healthy.

A Scientific Breakthrough

Ashleigh Johnstone, Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University in Wales, recently made some huge breakthroughs regarding the effects of martial arts.

Focusing mainly on mental control and mindfulness, they approached martial arts as the subject of their study, as viewed from a combination of both physical activity and concentration.

The test consisted of amateur adults who practice martial arts (Karate, Judo, and Taekwondo, etc.) and 27 adults with no experience in the sports to take part in an attention network test.

The tests focused on three types of attention, as stated in the report: “alerting (maintaining a sense of alertness); orienting (the shifting of attention), and executive (involved in choosing the correct response when there’s conflicting information).” Certain factors were considered, such as the type of art, how often they practice, and how many years they were involved in the sport.

It’s no surprise that the study showed the martial artists had a higher alert rating, mainly due to the sparring aspect. This also showed they have a higher level of vigilance and stronger cognitive control.

This study highlighted the students who trained longer improved better, signifying the effects of improved attention may be long-lasting, rather than just a short boost after training.

The reason this is a breakthrough for not only martial arts is that significant evidence now exists that shows training in martial arts has a long-term benefit to the brain just as much as the body.

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About the author

Lewis is a culture writer based in the north of England where he reports on the strange and wonderful stories of MMA across Northern Europe. He has been training in Shukokai Karate for 12 years and is a black belt in that discipline. He has a passion for MMA in all of its forms.

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