Dance Your Way to a Healthier Aging Brain

From Drugs.com - October 12, 2017

Dance Your Way to a Healthier Aging Brain

THURSDAY, Oct. 12, 2017 -- Dance classes may beat traditional exercise when it comes to improving older adults' balance -- and it might enhance brain areas related to memory and learning along the way.

That's the finding of a small study that compared dance lessons against standard exercise -- including brisk walking -- among 52 healthy seniors.

Over a year and a half, older adults who took weekly dance classes showed gains in their balancing ability. There were no such improvements in the traditional exercise group.

Researchers also found hints that all those mambos and cha-chas had extra brain benefits.

Seniors in both groups showed growth in the hippocampus -- a brain structure that's involved in memory and learning. But the dancers showed changes in more areas of the hippocampus.

Patrick Muller, one of the researchers on the study, suggested an explanation: The "multimodal" nature of dance -- its physical and mental components -- might be behind the extra brain boost.

Seniors in the dance group had to continually learn and "imprint" new steps, explained Muller, a Ph.D. candidate at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg, Germany.

Along with that mental challenge, he said, dance also involves coordinating movement with music -- which itself affects the brain. Plus, there's the fun, Muller noted.

David Marquez is an associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said it's hard to know what to make of the brain findings, since the study group was so small.

Marquez, who was not involved in the research, is studying the effects of Latin dance classes on older Hispanic adults' well-being.

He agreed that dance can offer things that simpler repetitive activity may not.

"With dance, you are having to think about each step," Marquez said. "There are motor, cognitive and social components. And there's the music."

But, he added, both exercise groups in this study showed changes in the hippocampus, on average. And that's in line with past research, Marquez noted: Studies have found that regular aerobic exercise, like walking, may boost the volume of brain areas involved in memory, planning and other vital functions.

"So the message is, get moving," Marquez said.

Ultimately, he added, the "best" form of exercise for any one person is the one that can be maintained.

"If you do not enjoy the activity, you wo not do it," Marquez said. "So find something you enjoy and do it regularly."


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