Dance Your Way to a Better Brain
A new study found that both traditional exercise and dancing have an anti-aging effect on the brain. However, it discovered that dancing provides the additional benefit of improved balance, which the researchers attributed to the process of learning dance routines.
As people age, they suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness. Not everyone is motivated to exercise regularly, a discipline that slows and, in some cases, reverses these effects. It’s good to know that a fun activity like dancing can produce equal or superior advantages.
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“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” said Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. “In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”
Comparing Dance to Traditional Exercise
In the study, participants with an average age of 68 were recruited and assigned to an 18-month weekly course of either endurance training or learning dance routines. Both activities led to an increase in size of the hippocampus, the brain structure that controls learning, memory and balance. Because this region is vulnerable to age-related decline and the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, the benefit was of particular importance.
Earlier research has shown that exercise reduces the brain deterioration associated with aging, but studies haven’t compared types of workouts to determine which one offers the most advantages. Therefore, the effects of cycling and Nordic walking were compared with those of learning a new dance routine every week.
“We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance). Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor,” explained Rehfeld.
Dancing involves different physical and mental challenges that aren’t a part of traditional exercise. It improves the body’s integration of information coming from the eyes, inner ear, muscles and the sense of touch; so the researchers reasoned that this aspect of the activity produced the increased balance. Because balance is essential for everyday functioning, and an impairment in the function results in the major health threat of falls, this benefit was deemed quite valuable.
New Workout: “Jymmin”
Rehfeld and her team are using the discoveries to develop and test new fitness programs that maximize antiaging brain benefits.
“Right now, we are evaluating a new system called “Jymmin” (jamming and gymnastic). This is a sensor-based system which generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity. We know that dementia patients react strongly when listening to music. We want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients.”
The Multiple Benefits of Dancing
Rehfeld concludes with comments on the anti-aging power of dancing. “I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Aside from dancing’s effect on brain function, aging and balance, it provides social stimulation and relieves loneliness. When you factor together all of the activity’s advantages, it’s no wonder that studies link it to reduced stress and depression as well as increased longevity. Perhaps it’s time to get out those dancing shoes.
So what is your favorite type of dancing? Tell us about it in the comments section below!
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.