Dance Your Way to a Healthier Brain, Even If You’re Older

  • Dance classes may be the best exercise to improve older adults’ balance and prevent falls.
  • It turned out, dancing might boost areas of the brain associated to memory and learning.
  • Researchers found evidence that all those dance moves had extra brain benefits.

A small study participated by 52 healthy seniors compared dance classes against traditional exercise, which includes brisk walking and strength-training. After more than one and a half years, older adults who took weekly dance classes displayed stronger balancing ability. Notably, there were no such improvements in participants who exercised traditionally.

Participants in both groups showed growth in the hippocampus—a small organ in the brain associated with memory and learning. But those in dance classes showed changes in more areas of the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is critical, according to one of the researchers, Patrick Muller, because it is affected in dementia, including Alzheimer’s, and it can also shrink in aging.

“The ‘multimodal’ nature of dance—its physical and mental components—might be behind the extra brain boost,” Muller said.

“The dancers had to continually learn and remember new steps,” added Muller, a Ph.D. candidate at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg, Germany.

Aside from the mental challenge, dance also involves movement coordination with music, and it’s also fun, Muller noted.

David Marquez, an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois, said it’s hard to know what to make of the brain findings, referring to the size of the study.

Marquez, who was not a part of the research, is studying the effects of Latin dance classes on older Hispanic adults’ well-being. He is in agreement that “dance can offer things that simpler repetitive activity may not.”

“With dance, you’re having to think about each step. There are motor, cognitive and social components. And there’s the music,” Marquez said.

He also noted that both study groups showed changes in the hippocampus, on average. Marquez said that it is in line with previous studies, where findings revealed that regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, may improve the volume of brain areas involved in memory, planning and other vital functions.

“So the message is, get moving,” Marquez concluded.

He added that the best form of exercise for any one individual is the one that can be maintained.

“If you don’t enjoy the activity, you won’t do it,” he said. “So find something you enjoy and do it regularly.”

The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, included healthy participants who were typically in their late 60s.

Source: Everyday Health


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