Dancing is truly one of the most wonderful forms of exercise! Not only is it a whole lot of fun, but it gets your entire body moving in a way that no other workout could. Whether you salsa dance, tango, break dance, or hip hop, dancing provides an amazing cardiovascular workout that engages your legs, core, and upper body.
But the effects don’t end there! Dancing requires a lot of flexibility and mobility, so there is less risk of stiffness in your joints and muscles. The more you dance, the more you train your joints and connective tissues to move easily. Studies have proven that just 45-minute dance lessons twice a week could have significant improvements among those with arthritis. The patients reported less hip and knee pain, and were able to walk faster with just three months of dance lessons.
Another study found a fascinating new anti-aging effect of dancing: it can have noticeable effect in reversing the effects of old age in the brain!
The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, conducted an experiment with 26 adults in their 60s and 70s. 12 of the adults were from a group that engaged in regular endurance resistance training, while the other 14 were from a group that participated in regular dance lessons.
The researchers examined all the adults’ brains using MRI, as well as subjecting them to Sensory Organization Test and measuring the volume of their hippocampus, the region of the brain that plays a crucial role in navigation in space, learning, and the consolidation of new memories. Over 18 months, the adults were studied to determine what differences, if any, there would be between the two types of workouts.
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At the end of the 18 months, the adults were subjected to MRI scans once more, and it was discovered that BOTH groups saw an increase in their hippocampus volume. However, only the dancer group saw increases in two specific regions of the hippocampus that affected behavior and memory. They also scored higher on the balance tests, thanks to the dancing.
The lead researcher spoke on their interesting way of structuring the dance classes: “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.”
It is believed this extra difficulty level is what helped the adults to improve their balance and increased the volume of their hippocampus. By challenging their brains, the dance lessons helped to reduce the effects of aging and forced the brain to adapt to the new information being processed. Given that the hippocampus is responsible for navigation as well as the organization of new information, it’s fascinating to see just how much it is affected by the dance lessons!
The researcher went on to expound about their next research: “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. 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.”
If you want to fight or even reverse the cognitive decline that comes with aging, it’s time to take up dancing. Dance lessons can help to improve your flexibility and mobility, boost your cardiovascular endurance, and even improve muscular endurance. However, as this study proved, the real benefit will be for your brain. By forcing it to absorb and remember new information, you help to increase brain activity in the region associated with memory and balance. You’ll find that those hours you spend engaged in dance training will help to improve your posture and keep your brain sharp as a tack!
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