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How Dancing Improves Brain Health

Cheryl Popp

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An accomplished freelance writer and editor, Cheryl is passionate about how to bolster our resilience in old age and reshape the course of decline. Her compassion and understanding for caregiving stems from acting as a caregiver for her mother, who struggled with dementia, and her father, who suffered from Parkinson’s.

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Research identifies a positive correlation between optimal brain health and dancing

It turns out that dancing is not just fun, but it’s also good for your brain. Great news, right? We’ve always known dancing is a great way for your body to stay in shape —but research has also confirmed it’s a great way for your mind to stay in shape as well.  Dancing is yet another way to improve brain health as we age.

According to a recent study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience1 dancing and the added mental challenge of remembering dance steps and sensorimotor demands may be a better form of exercise than traditional fitness training when it comes to slowing the signs of aging.

Sensorimotor demands relate to bodily activity or movement triggered by sensory as well as motor impulses. 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.

Many studies2 have shown that exercise is associated with preserving cognitive function in older adults. Researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg, Germany found that dancing — more so than weight and endurance training — was associated with enhancing areas of the brain (specifically the hippocampus) responsible for cognitive function and also for improving balance.

Compared to many physical activities such as swimming and bicycling as well as mentally stimulating activities such as reading and playing board games, dancing was also most closely associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia.

The hippocampus is a region in our brain that is crucial for memory consolidation, learning and navigation. We know that this important region can be impacted by movement, physical activity and aerobic fitness. Researchers have also found  that age-related degeneration in brain structure and cognitive impairment may be mitigated, and neuroplasticity improved, with physical activity. This is especially true of dancing especially because it requires more than just motor skills; there is more “thinking” associated with it.

Other studies3 suggests that dance, regardless of the type, can significantly improve muscle strength, endurance and balance. So dance is good for your body and your brain.

Impact of Dance on Brain Health

Recent research4 by Joe Verghese, professor of neurology and medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for the Aging Brain, also showed the benefits of dance on an individual’s memory and general cognition. Because dance requires mental, physical, emotional and social skills, all of these functions working together can be beneficial to your brain and overall health. Dance is a multi-tasking activity which can improve cognitive function and slow the aging process.

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 the risk of cognitive decline. Dancing often involves music which we know can also be soothing and/or motivating and can provide an emotional mood boost. Maybe music inspires you to shake, rattle and roll (or at least tap your feet!); maybe it connects you to a joyous time in your past.

Research continues to demonstrate the positive benefits of dance on aging and health, including improved postural, sensorimotor and cognitive performance. All indications are that we ought to be dancing as much as we can.  Twist and shout, waltz, tango, foxtrot, or West Coast swing anyone? Or how about just swayin’ to the music. Don’t like to dance? Think of it as enhancing your brain power and a way to keep healthy and fit. Personally, I would much rather get a good workout on the dance floor than at the gym, although many gyms offer jazzercise, Zumba and other exercise classes that are in fact dancing.

Whatever you do remember this rule: dance as if no one is looking! Dancing is good for your brain, body, heart and soul.

Sources:

  1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00305/full
  2. http://www.nextavenue.org/dance-yourself-better-brain-health/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5491389/
  4. http://www.jamda.com/article/S1525-8610(17)30122-6/fulltext

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