Researchers have known for years that age-related degeneration in brain structure and cognitive impairment can be mitigated, and neuroplasticity improved, with physical activity. This is especially true of dancing because it requires more than just motor skills; there is more “thinking” associated with it. It turns out that dancing is not just fun, but it’s also good for your brain.
How Dancing Protects Your Brain
You don’t have to be a party lover to enjoy dancing. In fact, if you find jogging or running tedious, dancing can be just as good or even better at keeping you young. And you’re about to find out why.
A study published in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,” compared various dancing styles, such as Jazz and Latin-American, with traditional exercise. Individuals who took part in the study had an average age of 68. After 18 months of weekly choreographed dance routines, researchers found that the brain structure of all participants had made dramatic improvements. Especially, in the hippocampus area. (1)
The hippocampus is the region in our brain that is crucial for creating new memories and is also associated with learning and emotions. This is very welcoming news for those concerned with age-related brain degeneration, such as Alzheimer’s or memory loss.
Dancing Improves Physical and Brain Health
On top of strengthening the area of your brain involved with memory (hippocampus), dancing also improves endurance, flexibility, balance and body coordination. Many times, an injury caused by falling can be fatal to elderly people. One in three adults aged 50 and over dies within 12 months of suffering a hip fracture. (2)
“Dancing seems to be a promising intervention for both improving balance and brain structure in the elderly. It combines aerobic fitness, sensorimotor skills and cognitive demands while at the same time the risk of injuries is low,” the study states.
Having to remember dance steps, holding on to your partner the right way to execute a turn, having to recognize the beat and move in tandem, or just “feeling” the rhythm of the music and moving on your own, are all sensorimotor demands.
Researchers believe the improvements in balance may be due to learning choreography, which requires having to coordinate footsteps and arm patterns along with speed and rhythm changes.
The social aspect of dancing should not be underestimated either. Dancing involves other people and can reduce feelings of isolation and social stress, which can contribute to depression and cognitive decline.
Regardless of which genre you learn, dancing is a multi-tasking activity that combines cognitive, physical and social aspects all into one. It’s this unique synergy of components that make dancing so effective at slowing down the effects of aging in the brain.
Dance Like No One’s Watching!
The positive benefits of dance on aging and health are the real deal. With so many studies being doe on the subject, we ought to be dancing as much as we can.
Don’t like to dance? No problem, just think of it as enhancing your brain power and a way to keep healthy and fit. There’s no better time to start than now.
Join a class or learn by yourself. Learn a dance step or two. Practice it until you get bored and move on to a new move even if you haven’t mastered the previous one. Just keep moving forward and keep practicing. Whatever you do, just remember to have fun!
Here’s what a year of dancing can turn into: