Everyone runs the risk of developing conditions like Alzheimer`s disease, no matter how healthy we eat, how much we exercise, or how stress-free lives we live. Nevertheless, the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience has lately revealed that elderly individuals who exercise on a regular basis experience reversals in the aging of their brains. Even more surprising is the type of exercise which was shown to be the most effective- dancing.
Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, the lead author of the study done at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases said: “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting an 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.”
The research itself was done on volunteers around the age of 68 and who underwent dance routines and training for eighteen months. Interestingly enough, all volunteers who exercised exhibited an increased activity in the hippocampus area of their brains, which is prone to age-related decline in learning, balance, and memory. While traditional exercises like Nordic walking and cycling proved effective as well, dancing seems to be the most effective.
Specifically, Dr. Rehfeld explains, “We tried to provide our seniors with 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.” Hopefully, Dr.Rehfeld`s research will lead to the creation of fitness programs that optimize these age-reversing effects.
Additionally, Dr. Rehfeld adds that “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 an age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”
In addition to its brain-protective and brain-boosting properties, dancing has been shown to do the following:
- Increase endurance, strength, and motor fitness
- Increase aerobic fitness
- Improve muscle tone
- Improve the function of your lungs and heart
- Improve coordination, flexibility, and agility
- Improve mental functioning
- Improve spatial awareness and balance
- Improve social skills
- Improve general and psychological wellbeing
- Boost self-esteem and self-confidence