Health & Wellness

Dance Lessons May be the Move for Brain Health

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If you’ve ever danced the Waltz or the Foxtrot, here’s good news: dancing may be good for your brain.

Yes, it provides aerobic exercise, but cutting a rug may also have mental benefits that go beyond activities like walking.

Our brain’s “white matter” controls neuron signals that coordinate how the regions of the brain work together. [1] The natural loss of white matter as we age may play a role in declining cognitive function, including decreased processing speed. [2]

Yet according to findings from a study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, combining physical, cognitive, and social engagement (as you do when you dance) may help maintain or improve certain measures of the brain’s white matter. [2]

The study divided subjects into four groups that met for an hour three times a week over a six-month period. One group walked briskly for that hour. One group walked briskly and was provided a nutritional supplement. Another performed stretching and balance exercises. And the fourth group learned group social dance styles that became progressively more challenging over the study period.

According to the study authors, only one group showed an increase in certain measures of brain white matter across the study; the dancers. [2]

Agnieszka Burzynska, PhD, is a professor of human development and neuroscience at Colorado State University and the lead author of the study. She claims that dance may be a powerful brain-booster because it works on three levels; physical (exercising), cognitive (learning new steps and spins) and social (working together and interacting with a partner). Burzynska has said that the study results suggest that “engaging in any activities involving moving and socializing” may help improve mental abilities in aging brains. [3]

So, check your shyness at the door, and learn some new moves!

References:

[1] White Matter Matters. Scientific American. 2008.

[2] White Matter Integrity Declines Over 6 Months, but Dance Intervention Improved Integrity of the Fornix in Older Adults; Front. Aging Neurosci., 16 March 2017

[3] Walk, Stretch or Dance? Dancing May Be Best for the Brain. New York Times. 29 March 2017.

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