Regardless of how healthy we eat or of how to fit we keep, all human beings are at some risk of eventually developing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. That being said, the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience has recently revealed that older individuals who exercise regularly experience reversals in the aging process of their brains. Perhaps more surprising is the specific type of exercise which was found to be most effective—dancing.
Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld headed this research at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases: “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting an age-related decline in mental and physical capacity. 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 lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”
The research involved volunteers around the age of 68 and dance routines and training of 18 months. Interestingly, all participants who exercised experienced an increase in the hippocampus region of their brains, which is sensitive to an age-related decline in balance, memory, and learning. Traditional exercise routines have involved cycling or Nordic walking, but dancing seems to be more effective in part because of the variety it offers.
More specifically, Dr. Rehfeld says, “We tried to provide our seniors with the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance). Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed, and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor.” Dr. Rehfeld’s research should eventually yield fitness programs which maximize these age-reversing effects.
Furthermore, Dr. Rehfeld explains that “Right now, we are evaluating a new system called ‘Jymmin’ (jamming and gymnastic). This is a sensor-based system which generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity. We know that dementia patients react strongly when listening to music. We want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients. I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down an age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”
It should be pointed out that this news will be celebrated by some people but shunned by others: but what can you do? Some people just love to dance—and some people simply loathe the very idea of dancing.
However, this is definitely one case in which the juice is well worth the squeeze.
Image: Aletia2011 / Fotolia
Kathrin Rehfeld, Patrick Müller, Norman Aye, Marlen Schmicker, Milos Dordevic, Jörn Kaufmann, Anita Hökelmann, Notger G. Müller. Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2017; 11 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00305
*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here.