Dancing keeps your brain young, new research finds.
Compared with exercise like cycling and Nordic walking, dancing has more profound effects.
Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, said:
“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity.
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.”
People in the study had an average age of 68.
For 18 months, they either went to weekly dance classes or they had endurance and flexibility training.
Brain scans revealed the exercise was beneficial for both groups, but the dancing gave a bigger boost.
The hippocampus — the area linked to memory — increased in size.
The endurance program was quite repetitive, with a lot of Nordic walking and cycling.
Dr Rehfeld said the dancing was different:
“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.”
The extra challenge linked to learning to dance is thought to be the cause of the extra benefit.
Dr Rehfeld said:
“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.”
Dr Rehfeld concluded:
“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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (Rehfeld et al., 2017).