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Discussion: New research on orienteering and brain health

in: Orienteering; General

Jan 21, 2023 1:29 AM # 
Hi everyone,

I am super excited to share some research that I have been working on over the past 3 years about the cognitive effects of orienteering.

You can find a press release and video here

and a link to the full open-access journal article here

Some of you on here may have even been a participant in this online questionnaire-based study a few years ago. If you were, I cannot thank you enough for your participation!
I hope you all enjoy reading this work. I am currently continuing researching the acute cognitive benefits of orienteering, and hope to share with the community when it is complete :)
Jan 21, 2023 1:39 AM # 
Excellent! I always thought orienteering is good for our brain, and now you've proved it. A+.
Jan 21, 2023 3:10 AM # 
Excellent research and thanks for sharing
Jan 21, 2023 4:29 AM # 
Thanks for sharing, and for doing the research!
Jan 21, 2023 4:39 AM # 
Great research and I’m pleased with your conclusions. :) Congratulations, Lead Author!
Jan 21, 2023 5:28 PM # 
My Google alert for the term "orienteering" returned this today:

Jan 21, 2023 9:44 PM # 
So cool!!
Jan 22, 2023 4:11 AM # 
Fantastic, Emma!
Jan 22, 2023 4:33 PM # 
@JanetT, it's interesting to see the different ways orienteering is (or isn't) described.

Emma, fantastic work! I'd love to see a longitudinal study that tracks spatial processing and spatial memory as people learn orienteering and after people stop orienteering.
Jan 23, 2023 2:04 PM # 
Emma this is wonderful! Congratulations. I love that you published in PLoS so we can see the whole article freely.

Navigation Games has a donor who has asked us how we measure the impact of teaching kids. We've been wanting to improve our assessments, which have been somewhat scattered. We have done some survey questions of middle school and high school kids about their experience in a field trip. We can see the improvement as kids become proficient at our games (perhaps these are formative assessments).

We may get a chance to work with some students taking an evaluation class at Harvard Graduate school of Education this spring. We'll meet with the professor this week, but my hope going into it is that we could get help defining what outcomes stakeholders most are about and generation of ideas for how to measure them. We've talked with another professor who mentioned existing tools for measuring self-confidence. I'd like to measure kids' ability to (say) remember and execute a task list. There are so many benefits we claim for our work... Which matter? Which are real?

Anyway, if you'd like to talk sometime and advise us on this, that would be wonderful!
Jan 23, 2023 6:23 PM # 
@Canadian - sounds cool, but that would be a VERY long longitudinal study to conduct!!
@barb - that sounds SO awesome, would love to chat more about this.
Jan 25, 2023 2:58 AM # 
This has been getting a ton of press coverage - maybe the single most positive media exposure for orienteering in a long time! Congratuations!
Jan 25, 2023 3:14 AM # 
Very interesting results,

I would be thinking, orienteering is a brutal, grueling sport, as such it results in an accelerated wear and tear of one's mind and body, and early decline, particularly for those who ran (semi)professionally while young.
I checked the recent photos of my competitors from 1980s, they look bad, some already dead. We did not eat well then, no vitamins, and were training like crazy.
Jan 25, 2023 3:33 AM # 
And living where?
Jan 25, 2023 12:27 PM # 
@jjcote - the sample of this study had participants from Canada, USA, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, UK, Australia, China, Czechia and I think, off the top of my head.
Jan 25, 2023 1:00 PM # 
Thanks Emma. But my question was to yurets, about where his bedraggled companions were/are living. (It may be a place where a lot of people are in rough shape these days.)
Jan 26, 2023 5:30 PM # 
Terje Mathisen:
I assume you remember the Swedish study from a few years back, where they found that among all retired people, those who maintained an active lifestyle did better than the others (not surprisingly!), but one group did significantly better than all the rest and that was the orienteers.
There is of course some amount of self-selection, in that you need to maintain both body & mind in order to keep orienteering well into your seventies, but they supposedly tried to correct for this.
Jan 26, 2023 6:29 PM # 
There is a long established saying that goes "You don't slow down because you grow old. You grow old because you slow down."
This study seems to point to a parallel: "You don't stop thinking because you grow senile. You grow senile because you stop thinking."
Mar 5, 2023 4:43 PM # 
My Google News alert for the word "orienteering" brought a gem from "World Nation News" (a "news portal") with these introductory paragraphs before mentioning Jennifer Heisz and Emma's study:

A recent study suggests that using Google Maps to navigate increases the risk of developing dementia. Researchers have studied the effects of outdoor sports, which is an outdoor activity that tests physical resistance and orientation ability, helping to combat cognitive decline.

The purpose of orienteering is to navigate between the points marked on the map and the competition authorities, the challenge is to complete the course in the shortest possible time. Scientists say that this sport, which is combined with rowing exercise, can be a preventive measure against dementia, as the physical and cognitive demands can activate areas of the brain that our ancestors used to hunt and gather.

The title they used? "Using GPS mapping apps increases the risk of developing dementia"
Mar 5, 2023 7:38 PM # 
Ugh. Great way to completely miss the point!
Mar 5, 2023 8:51 PM # 
Probably some low-budget knockoff of ChatGPT.
Mar 5, 2023 9:57 PM # 
Can't say I've done much rowing whilst orienteering before. I have done some paddling in ARs though, perhaps that's what they're referring to.
Mar 5, 2023 10:24 PM # 
Mar 6, 2023 1:00 PM # 
Not to be confused with ROWgaine.
Mar 6, 2023 3:45 PM # 
Proof reading, fact checking....huh, who does that when you can spit out a controversial headline...
Mar 6, 2023 5:00 PM # 
Sounds like it was written by a bot or went through a half dozen translations. Or both.
Mar 7, 2023 5:36 AM # 
Some people here are so judgemental...that's a thing of the past...let's acknowledge people of alternative talents, with their unique ways of expression, and celebrate our differences!
Mar 8, 2023 1:05 AM # 
Oh my! How would one use a map when rowing and orienteering? I feel like a chest holder for ski-o would smack you in the face, would it not?
Mar 8, 2023 1:10 AM # 
For paddling and orienteering, I made a rotating map board that clips onto one of the cross braces in the bow of the canoe. For rowing, I think the big challenge is that you're moving backwards, but if people can do it on skis...
Mar 8, 2023 9:26 AM # 
Is backwards skiing an Olympic sport yet?
Mar 8, 2023 1:00 PM # 
Only in Sweden
Mar 8, 2023 7:22 PM # 
Terje Mathisen:
An MTB-O map holder would work perfectly well in a canoe...
Mar 8, 2023 9:37 PM # 
I'd have to find somewhere to mount the handlebars to attach the board to. I could just attach it directly to the paddle but it'd make for hard reading.
Mar 15, 2023 9:54 PM # 
NBC Nightly news is doing a feature on Orienteering and benefits preventing cognitive decline in old folks. More will be on the national edition with Lester Holt at 6:30 here in the east.
Mar 15, 2023 10:00 PM # 
Promo video for tonight's feature:
Mar 15, 2023 11:31 PM # 
Pretty good feature.
Mar 15, 2023 11:37 PM # 
Here's the link to the full segment.
Mar 16, 2023 1:42 AM # 
That's the most amazing link I've seen with LOTS of cool videos,
I liked the one named Never trust your husband to your best friend
Mar 16, 2023 11:30 PM # 
Be prepared for a deluge of old people anxious to stimulate their hippocampuses. Hippocampi?
Mar 17, 2023 1:41 AM # 
Hippopotamuses don't know how to orienteer and would likely bite you in half if you tried to 'stimulate' them.
Mar 17, 2023 2:23 AM # 
On the day this research was featured in the Hamilton Spectator, Orienteering Ontario received an email asking what programs we offer for the elderly. Our new orienteering group, Dontgetlost South Georgian Bay, is actively thinking about this demographic. There are lots of retirees in our area.
Mar 17, 2023 9:23 AM # 
Seniors are actually 'low hanging fruit' for clubs that are thinking of reaching out to plant programs in various places. Check with your local Parks and Rec departments and you will likely find a programmer looking for ideas to involve their Senior population.
You will also likely find Senior Games at the local, state/ provincial, national level and a chance to insert orienteering into those Games. Yes, you still have to sell the sport and you will not get a ton of lifetime orienteers but you can get a few and you can make some revenue for your club. (says a former Empire State Senior Games gold medallist in orienteering)
Mar 17, 2023 2:56 PM # 
They might be lifetime orienteers, actually. It's just that the lifetime in question might be somewhat abbreviated.
Mar 17, 2023 10:48 PM # 
Be interesting to see an age profile of APers:-))
Mar 20, 2023 3:17 PM # 
Some more media attention. An interview with Emma on CHML radio in Hamilton. The link is below. To listen, set the date to march 20 7AM and then use the slider to move to 50:50
Mar 20, 2023 7:57 PM # 
Here in the Suncoast area of Florida we have a few local jurisdictions (two counties, one city) where Parks employees have taken it on themselves to set up orienteering programs (I help with the maps). Of course I forwarded the NBC video link to each. One wrote back " I recently presented our orienteering programs in XXX County at a conference for informal educators who work in parks, zoos, aquariums, museums, etc. One of the attendees told me about some interesting research from the 70s that showed orienteering and map reading skills seem to aid children’s ability to learn geometry! Lots of benefits from map reading and spatial analysis."
So we have a new study showing how orienteering benefits the old and an old study that shows how orienteering benefitts the young.
I only have it anecdotally but someone could probably ride it to a Phd that aptitude in orienteering makes people better, faster decision makers and more adept problem solvers, too.
Mar 21, 2023 5:45 PM # 
The Georgia club frequently has a "silver" course that is advanced navigation but short distance. The control descriptions are printed slightly larger to accommodate our older orienteers.
Mar 22, 2023 7:19 AM # 
And the map too, I hope.
Mar 22, 2023 9:59 AM # 
A2 map.
Mar 23, 2023 12:21 AM # 
A2 is a milk. I'm not fond of it.
Mar 23, 2023 11:06 PM # 
A lot of retirement communities would make for interesting sprint-standard maps. Put out some permanent markers, create a program to randomly generate the course of the day, and people could exercise their bodies and their brains.
Mar 24, 2023 12:08 AM # 
Brilliant idea!
Mar 24, 2023 4:11 AM # 
I'd always thought about that when my dad lived in a retirement village but doubted we'd ever get approval for it.
Mar 24, 2023 7:06 AM # 
Perhaps cmpbllv's title should be VP of Youth and Senior Development...
Mar 24, 2023 8:24 AM # 
Had that thought too, cmbllv and tRicky. Selfishly, I was thinking of able-bodied sprinters:-)) Perceived problem, needing approval from both management AND lots of residents; got enough work without that. What would make me reconsider, is a report from someone who has succeeded.
May 10, 2023 6:07 PM # 
May 10, 2023 6:23 PM # 
Nice article!
May 10, 2023 6:59 PM # 
Looks like Mike beat me to it (I was out mapping). The video portion of the article is also available for viewing on YouTube.

May 11, 2023 7:35 PM # 
Nice ending: "This is *THE* best sport in the world!"
May 11, 2023 7:44 PM # 
I hope US and Canadian orienteering clubs are ready to take advantage of this millions of dollars worth of free advertising first from NBC and now Time Magazine.
"As seen on NBC" , "As seen in Time Magazine" Those are pretty standard advertising catchphrases, used because they bring attention, legitimacy and validity to the productt.
I think every US orienteeering club should be adding those phrases to their banner as well as already putting links to the two videos to their pages.
May 15, 2023 3:19 PM # 
Does anyone know if the Time Magazine article is (or will be) available in the print issue?
May 15, 2023 5:23 PM # 
Not that I'm aware of, but I can ask.

This discussion thread is closed.