Could playing darts make you smarter?

Luke Littler’s impressive run at the PDC World Darts Championship has sparked new buzz around the sport.

The 16-year-old became the youngest person to reach the final of this iconic contest, and anyone who’s been watching will know it takes a lot of skill.

Although impeccably controlled aim may be the key component to winning, darts is all about the numbers. Players start with a score of 501 and have to try to get to zero as quickly as possible by placing high numbers on the board, but they must end up precisely at zero with a double, so there’s a lot of math and mental gymnastics involved.

It may be a game we often associate with pubs, but could darts help us all sharpen our brains and become smarter?

“Playing darts can have profound effects on the brain, providing dynamic mental training that sharpens cognitive skills, encourages neuroconnectivity and provides a holistic approach to brain health,” says Dr Steve Allder, consultant neurologist at Re :Cognition Health.

Here’s a closer look…

Mathematical and strategic thinking.

Psychologist and relationship coach Barbara Santini says one of the immediate benefits of sport is “the improved mathematical skills” it entails.

“The game requires quick mental arithmetic to keep score and strategize to find the most efficient path to zero, which can significantly improve numerical agility. However, beyond simple arithmetic, darts encourage strategic thinking,” says Santini. “Players should plan several steps ahead, considering the best combinations to close the game efficiently. “This strategic aspect exercises higher-order thinking skills, such as planning, foresight, and problem-solving.”

Stimulation and concentration.

“Accuracy, concentration and hand-eye coordination can activate several regions of the brain, improving cognitive function. When players aim at the target, the brain is in constant motion as it calculates distances, evaluates angles and makes split-second decisions,” says Allder.

“This activity stimulates the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as planning, problem solving and decision making. The repetitive nature of throwing darts also refines motor skills and reinforces the neural pathways that control muscle movements. “The higher levels of concentration and attention required in darts affect the brain’s ability to filter information and can improve cognitive performance.”

Flow state

“Playing darts requires a person to really focus their attention. This can have a number of benefits for your mental health and wellbeing,” says Dr Sandi Mann, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

“Playing darts provides us with something known as ‘psychological flow’, which is a state of mind in which we are completely immersed in an activity. When we focus our mind on an activity like darts, it gives us a break from any problems or worries that might otherwise preoccupy our minds. Even if playing darts only temporarily pushes other thoughts away, these moments of respite are incredibly important,” adds Mann.

Emotional regulation and stress reduction.

“Play provides an outlet for stress relief, which is crucial for maintaining cognitive health,” adds Santini. “High levels of stress can affect cognitive function, so activities that reduce stress are indirectly beneficial for intellectual ability. Additionally, the social aspect of playing darts can improve emotional well-being, contributing to a more focused and agile mind.”

Social impulse

The social aspect is very beneficial, says Allder. “Interacting with opponents and engaging in friendly competition contributes to improved social cognition, emotional regulation, and stress reduction.”

After all, there’s plenty of evidence linking social connections to better health as we age. So even if you’re just playing for fun at your local with some friends, everyone wins.

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