We’ve always known dancing is a great way for your body to stay in shape. It can significantly improve muscle strength as well as endurance and balance. All of these things help ensure healthy longevity.
Dancing is not only fun, but also a form of fitness. Even better, research has confirmed that it’s also a great way for your mind to stay in shape. Dance requires mental, physical, emotional and social skills. All of these functions working together can be beneficial to your brain and overall health.
Because dance is a multi-tasking activity, many studies show it can improve cognitive function and even slow the aging process. The basic conclusion? Dancing works out your body and your brain!
The Impact of Dance on Cognitive Health
Studies have long shown that exercise is associated with preserving cognitive function in older adults. Dancing now ranks as one of the best exercises. According to a recent study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, dancing may be a better form of exercise than traditional fitness training when it comes to slowing the signs of aging. This is because of the added mental challenges required, which include:
- Remembering dance steps
- Holding your partner the right way
- Executing turns
- Recognizing the beat
- Moving in tandem with someone or just “feeling” the rhythm of the music and moving on your own
- Synchronizing movement with music
Clinically, all of the activities above are referred to as “sensorimotor demands.” They relate to bodily activity or movement triggered by sensory as well as motor impulses.
Also of note is that compared to many physical activities, dancing is now linked to a reduced risk of developing dementia. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine strongly indicated that dance can improve brain health. Researchers studied the effect that eleven different types of physical activity had on elderly participants. These included cycling, golf, swimming and tennis. Only dancing lowered participants’ risk of dementia.
Another study at the University of Illinois at Chicago involved a Latin ballroom dance program for older sedentary adults. The senior dancers in the program reported improvements in memory, attention and focus. A similar ballroom dance program enrolled older people experiencing mild cognitive impairment. After the 10-month-long dancing class, they reported that participant’s thinking and memory had improved.
Dancing has also proven to be therapeutic for those living with Parkinson’s. It can help alleviate some of the motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s such as stiffness, tremors, impaired balance and coordination. Dance can even help improve their gait.
Studies have identified specific regions of the brain that are critical for cognitive health:
- The hippocampus, where cognitive function and balance, memory consolidation, learning and navigation reside
- The motor cortex, which dictates planning, control and voluntary movement
- The basal ganglia, where coordination and fluid movement originate
These same studies conclude that age-related degeneration in brain structure and cognitive impairment may be mitigated with physical activity, especially dance. This is because dance requires more than just motor skills so there is more “thinking” associated with it.
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Other Health Benefits of Dancing
The social aspect of dancing should not be underestimated either. Dancing often involves other people. Therefore, it can help reduce feelings of isolation. Dancing can enhance our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Other health benefits of dance include:
- Stress management. Dancing can be a joyous distraction that can calm anxiety. Dance usually involves music, which can be soothing.
- Motivation. Music and dance can also be motivating, inspiring us to shake, rattle and roll (or at least tap our feet!).
- Improved Mood. Dancing can help connect us to joyous memories in the past. It can provide an emotional mood-boost, increasing levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin.
- Better posture and balance. Dancing strengthens muscles which can help us stand straighter and reduce fall risk.
Research continues to demonstrate the positive benefits of dance on aging and health. All indications are that we ought to be dancing as much as we can. Twist and shout, waltz, tango, foxtrot or how just sway to the music. It all works. Don’t like to dance? Think of it as enhancing your brainpower, and a fun way to keep healthy and fit.
Personally, I would much rather get a good work out on the dance floor than at the gym. That being said, many gyms offer jazzercise, Zumba and other exercise classes that involve dancing. In these classes, you never have to worry about having a partner.
Whatever you do, remember to dance as if no one’s looking! It’s good for your brain, your body, your heart and your soul.