John Inverdale, walking sports ambassador at Just Get Active

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‘Hippocampus.’

It’s one of those words that’s a game winner in Scrabble, but if someone managed to assemble enough letters to put it down, everyone else would find themselves scurrying to find the dictionary. ‘You’ve made that up!’ they’d shout.

Well, hippocampus is actually a real word and, to save you the trouble, I’ll tell you what it means. The hippocampus is the area of the brain that is associated with memory. Its name is derived from the Greek hippokampus (hippos, meaning “horse,” and kampos, meaning “sea monster”), since its shape resembles that of a sea horse.

Exercise improves memory

Memory is relevant to all of our conversations about walking sports, because there is a strong link between physical activity and our ability to remember things at every stage of life. That’s because sport helps to keep our mental faculties at their most acute.

Countless research has found that schoolchildren who exercise regularly perform better in their exams, even to the point of achieving at least one grade better at GCSE than those who don’t.

It’s not just about keeping the brain active, but the confidence that taking part in physical activity gives you, too. The knock-on effect helps you feel more assured and positive when it comes to facing academic challenges.

So, move things on a generation or two, and you’ll find that sport is still just as relevant. More than 40% of people over the age of 65 experience some form of memory loss. At a severe level, memory loss manifests itself as dementia, but in its mildest form it’s simply the frustration of not being as sharp as you once were - not being ‘on the ball.’

Hand-eye co-ordination helps keep focus


This is where playing walking sports with a ball comes in. The more you use your brain, the less likely you are to suffer memory loss. And you have to use your brain when you play games like walking football, hockey or cricket.

Where will you pass to? Where will you go next? Which position should you take when you receive or pass the ball?

We tend to think that all of this is just a physical thing, but it’s not. Your mind drives the entire process, and hand-eye co-ordination among other motor skills are so beneficial.


Reminiscing with your walking sports community


The funny thing is, that it’s not just on the field of play where the mind benefits, but also once the final whistle has blown, too. The post-match coffee (or maybe a beer) prompts endless debate about what’s just happened, or more crucially, what memory is triggered from days gone by.

That open goal that you somehow missed half an hour earlier prompts memories of similar indiscretions years before. It suddenly brings to mind your team-mates from a bygone age, while that consequently sparks a whole new conversation about shared experiences.

Your mind is no different to your limbs. If you don’t exercise, you stiffen up, and the longer you allow them to rest, the harder it is to get them back into shape.

The memories that can be set off by playing walking sport don’t necessarily have to be personal. They can be about an FA Cup tie you went to 30 years ago, or sitting through an interminable Geoff Boycott innings, or where you watched that unforgettable Borg-McEnroe final. Just by igniting that thought, suddenly the mental juices start flowing. You’re more alert and alive than you were moments earlier.


‘Oh yes, I remember!’ is one of the most joyous phrases that you can suddenly utter, because at that very moment you truly do.


Your mind is instantly transported back to the 1970s or 80s. You can hear Slade or Spandau Ballet in playing in the background, reliving those cup final goals by Charlie George or Ricky Villa. Better yet, you and your walking sports comrades can reflect on, laugh about and bond over shared experiences and memories.


General George Patton played a pretty key role in World War Two, but besides his military acumen, he also came up with a few wise quotes for life in general, one of which is that “an active mind cannot exist in an inactive body.”


So, think about that next time you have the ball at your feet, or in your hand, and you’re deciding who to pass it to. It’s primarily about your feet or your arm. Your hip or your elbow. It’s about weight distribution and body balance. But, really, it’s your mind that’s driving all of that.

 

So without looking back to the top of this piece, what do you call the area of the brain that stores and involves the memory?


Come on…