As we grow older we suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness, which can be made worse by conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, shows that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain, and dancing has the most profound effect.
The study size was small, but brain studies usually are as MRI scans are expensive. There were 26 participants in total, with 14 being in the “dancing” group with an average age of 67. The fitness group had 12 people, with an average age of 69.
Over 18 months, the dancing group were given a weekly course of learning dance routines. The fitness group, meanwhile, went through endurance and flexibility training.
Both of the groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is important as this region is related to diseases like Alzheimer’s, and also plays a role in memory and balance. However, only the dancing group also showed a significant increase in improving their balance, which may be due to them learning a new routine every week.
Dancing can be a way to stay fit for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. It has a wide range of physical and mental benefits including:
improved condition of your heart and lungs
increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness
increased aerobic fitness
improved muscle tone and strength
stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
better coordination, agility and flexibility
improved balance and spatial awareness
increased physical confidence
improved mental functioning
improved general and psychological wellbeing
greater self-confidence and self-esteem
better social skills.
General tips for dancing:
If you are thinking of taking up dancing, suggestions include:
See your doctor for a check-up if you have a medical condition, are overweight, are over 40 years of age or are unfit.
Wear layers of clothing that you can take off as your body warms up.
Do warm-up stretches or activities before you begin a dance session.
Drink plenty of water before, during and after dancing.
Make sure you rest between dance sessions.
Don’t push yourself too far or too fast, especially if you are a beginner.
Wear professionally fitted shoes appropriate to your style of dance.
Check with your dance instructor that you are holding the correct form.
Sit and watch new dance moves first. Learning new moves increases your risk of injury, especially if you are already tired.
Perform regular leg-strengthening exercises.
Move as fluidly and gracefully as you can.
Cool down after a dance session, including stretching