Neuroscientists believe they have found a type of fountain of youth for the aging body and mind: dancing. So lace up those comfortable shoes, because you have some stepping out to do!
Aging is accompanied by deterioration in brain structure that can result in problems with balance and cognition. Of course, the severity of this degeneration varies greatly from person to person, but taking steps to slow or delay these factors can add years of improved quality of life for older adults. If those steps can be fun, so much the better!
It appears the steps can be, according to Kathrin Rehfeld, of the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany, and her colleagues. Although previous research has shown that participation in routine physical exercise in general can reverse the signs of aging in the brain, not much has been done to determine which exercise in particular is better.
That’s why the experts decided to compare dancing against endurance training in this newest experiment. The study involved 52 older adults ages 63 to 80 who were randomly assigned to participate in either a dance class or a sports control group.
In the dance classes, which the participants attended once weekly for eighteen months, the individuals learned something new each week. They were taught different genres of dance, including Latin, jazz, square, and line, and they also were constantly trying new arm patterns and rhythms. All of this variety challenged their memory and cognitive skills. In the endurance training classes, however, the participants performed mainly repetitive exercises every week.
Brain scans were conducted both before and after the experimental period. By the end of the study, individuals in both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus area of the brain, which is associated with memory, balance, and learning. Adults in the dance group, however, showed marked improvement in balance when compared with the endurance group, which lead Rehfeld to note that “it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”
A goal of Rehfeld and other researchers may be to keep all older adults on the dance floor. Currently the neuroscientist and her team is evaluating a program that combines jamming and gymnastics (“jymmin”) that “generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity” to use with dementia patients. They hope to improve the lives of these and other older adults, and keep them as independent and healthy as possible, for as long as possible. That’s a goal worth dancing for.
Sources Frontiers. “Dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain.” ScienceDaily 25 August 2017.
Rehfeld K et al. Dancing or fitness sport? The effects of two training programs on hippocampal plasticity and balance abilities in healthy seniors. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2017 June 15