Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Not In the Face (Thanks)

Last week, I talked about recent research that revealed that exercise can preserve muscle integrity well into your later years, but only the muscles that you exercise regularly will benefit.  This is great news if you're a grappler because jiu-jitsu is a full body activity, and this is not so great news if you're a runner.  On that same vein, there is another reason to choose jiu-jitsu over another martial art (or even mixed martial arts): pugilistica dementia.  Pugilistica dementia is a condition often associated with boxers where traumatic brain injury is frequent and common, resulting in a slew of cognitive impairments.  Matt Pitt, a physician and Sherdog contributor, recently wrote a great article on pugilistica dementia, and he revealed a characteristic of pugilistica dementia that should concern all of us:
...although the disease was long thought to be an acceleration of normal aging, perhaps a form of Alzheimer's disease brought on by trauma, the evidence proves otherwise. Alzheimer's disease produces scarring diffusely throughout the brain, but autopsy studies of ex-boxer's brains show a very different pattern of injury. In boxers' brains the scarring is predominantly along the surfaces of the brain, most commonly along the frontal and temporal lobes where punches have led to repeated contact between the bony prominences of the inner skull and the delicate surface of the brain.

The second important modern discovery regarding boxers' dementia is that it is not limited to boxers. Former rugby players, football players and wrestlers such as Chris Benoit have all been known to suffer from neuro-psychiatric diseases similar to boxers. Modern autopsy studies have proven what was long suspected -- these athlete’s brains have the same lesions as Dementia Pugilistica. The term Dementia Pugilistica, applying only to “pugilists,” is outdated: The disease is now known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Initially, pugilistica dementia was thought to be caused by concussions, very serious or extreme injuries, but the research reveals that every hit, no matter how minor, contributes and accumulates.  This means that the majority of scar tissue build up occurs in the gym, not in the ring, which should concern recreational boxers who may have thought they were avoiding brain injuries by boxing for fun and not for profit.  Boxing is a beautiful sport, and I wish that I had half the talent as some of the amateur boxers I have met, but if you are looking for a lifelong athletic outlet, boxing may not be the best choice.  Personally, I would much rather cope with joint injuries than brain injuries, and I suspect that many of my mat rat brethren would agree.

Already love jiu-jitsu?  Great.  Stay out of the cage and train smart to protect your joints.

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