Doing the tango or breakdancing could help keep the brain healthy and prevent cognitive decline in older adults, a study suggests.
There is plenty of evidence showing that physical exercise is effective to combat aging, and scientists add to that by finding that the challenge of learning dance routines is a big plus in maintaining good mental health, Yahoo News reports. Dancing also helps improve balance, which is a good thing as loss of balance is linked to brain degeneration.
Kathrin Rehfeld of the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases and lead author on the study, said,
Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity.
Rehfeld added, “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 led to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”
The study tracked two groups of volunteers who were 68 years old on average for a period of 18 months. One group took weekly dance classes that entailed learning a new routine each lesson, including jazz, line dance and Latin American dances. The second group underwent traditional endurance and flexibility workouts that were repetitive, such as cycling or brisk walking.
All participants showed an increase in the volume of their hippocampus, the primary area off the brain that controls memory and learning – and also the area majorly affected by dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The volunteers in the dance also group showed a remarkable improvement in balance. This led Rehfeld and the team to come up with a program called “Jymmin,” a combination of “jamming” and “gymnastics.” This program “generates sounds based on physical activity” and is aimed at patients who “react strongly when listening to music.”
“I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age,” Rehfeld said.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers.