By J.A. Giresi
We all know that physical activity is terrific for youth and vitality, but did you know it can keep your brain healthy too? A new study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Nueroscience shows that older people who routinely engage in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. But, what stands out the most in this study is that dancing has the most profound effect.
So, is it time to install a dance floor at the gym? That’s not a bad idea. We know that dancers have improved cardiovascular, respiratory and muscle-skeletal function, but now add improved brain function too. The study, conducted at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg, Germany, looked at elderly volunteers with an average age of 68 who were assigned an 18-month weekly course of either learning dance routines or taking endurance and flexibility training.
After the participants were given an MRI, both groups showed an improvement in the hippocampus region of the brain. The hippocampus is primarily responsible for long-term memory storage, which includes all past knowledge and experiences. This is the area of the brain affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. The hippocampus also plays an important role in balance.
We know that physical exercise staves off the aforementioned diseases, as does a good diet consisting of omega-3s and monounsaturated fats, but what the researchers found is that the dance group had the highest amounts of changes. Why? Simple: learning dance moves, like we see on the popular television series “Dancing with the Stars,” requires learning a series of steps, movements, arm patterns, speed and rhythm. The most challenging part of this study for participants was recalling these series of dance movements without any help from the coaches.
Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, is trying to develop a new system called Jymmin, which stands for jamming and gymnastic. From previous studies, Alzheimer’s and dementia patients respond well when music is played. Dr. Rehfeld hopes to combine physical activity and active music in a future study involving patients with dementia.
With so many great musicians, artists, actors and even our own family members and friends falling victim to these diseases, perhaps dancing can lead the way to good brain and body health. So maybe, the key to keeping a healthy body and healthy brain is to start taking dance lessons.
Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors Kathrin Rehfeld1,2 * †, Patrick Müller1,3†, Norman Aye1,2, Marlen Schmicker1, Milos Dordevic1,2, Jörn Kaufmann4, Anita Hökelmann2 and Notger G. Müller1,3,5 http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00305/full