BY BROOKLYN PINHEIRO
If you’re looking to sharpen your brain, you can put down the crosswords and sudokus and opt for a night of dancing instead.
While any and all physical activity is beneficial, a study published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience found that dancing had the most positive impact on its elderly participants.
“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,” said lead author of the study, Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, in a statement. “It was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioural changes in terms of improved balance.”
The idea that remaining active in ones old age benefits both the body and mind is not a new one, but these researchers wanted to set out to find if a specific type of activity would prove to have more of an impact than another.
Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were assigned to participate in either endurance and flexibility training or learning various dance routines. Both groups showed improvements in the area of the brain that controls memory, learning, and balance, the same area that is affected by Alzheimer’s.
It is thought that the challenge of memorizing the dance routine coupled with physical activity was what resulted in the more improved outcome for the dancing group.
“We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres,” said Rehfeld, “Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process.”
The study was relatively small consisting of only 26 participants. While the paper’s authors realize that larger studies need to be conducted in order to further explore the findings they are taking their results and forming new fitness programs that can best benefit people in their old age.
Nearly 44 million people world-wide suffer from Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Expanding on research that can help those living with these conditions will only better the lives of our planet’s senior citizens.
“I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible,” said Rehfeld. “I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”