No more guilt over choosing the Turnverein over the library. Scientist now say dancing or more specifically, learning dance steps strengthens your brain.
Have you ever watched a person learn salsa? They might start slow or totally miss the step but eventually they get it! If they learn a routine or learn to respond to cues even better for the brain! Like your arm lifting a weight, it responds by getting stronger.
A recent study in the science journal, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience took a unique scan of 174 seniors examining their white brain matter, which acts as the brain’s wiring. This white matter sends messages throughout the brain that scientists say move super fast in younger people. But as individuals age it becomes thinner and the connections slower.
This study conducted at the University of Illinois in Urbana recruited these seniors to do different kinds of exercise including brisk walking, stretching with balancing and line dancing to learn routines. The people who did the dancing were the only group to show improvement in their white matter.
Many researchers have reported in past studies that exercise in general is good for the brain. They have thought it mostly benefits regeneration in the hippocampus, the area of memory and learning. They have also suggested steady moderate activity to be more beneficial than high impact exercises with force or weights that can be mentally stressful to push through. The researchers in the Illinois study confirmed this too finding all the participants, whether they danced, walked or stretched showed improvements on thinking tests.
It’s important to note that those who were more sedentary before participating in the research showed the least improvement in their brain function. I suspect it’s a clue that watching Jeopardy or doing crossword puzzles doesn’t do much.
The take home message is stay active and keep moving. It leads to better overall health physically, psychologically and mentally. But now we know dancing is not only more social and more joyful but it can probably keep your brain processing better. See if your doctor agrees that you should take up a dance class. It’s way more fun than a crossword puzzle any day!
Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnagi.2017.00059/full
Davida is a journalist who teaches fitness classes including Zumba and yoga. Find more blogs and her fitness schedule at www.withDavida.com