Shall we dance? New study says it’s best for the brain

Consider swapping your sneakers for dancing shoes

Walking may reduce cognitive impairment and moderate fitness can prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but learning to dance – be it line, ballroom, or salsa – may offer the greatest protection to the brain’s processing speed and memory.

As we age, our brains get slower at absorbing, assessing and responding to new information. Brain scans show that 40 year olds get lower scores on processing speed tests than younger groups. Scores keep diminishing with age.

Neuroscientists have attributed this to the fraying of our brain’s white matter, which is considered the brain’s communication wiring.  In younger brains, neurons shoot messages quickly and effortlessly. When older brains’ white matter starts to weaken, messages putter, stutter and slow.

A new study looked at the effects of different exercises on the wiring and function of older people’s brains. In comparison to a group of walkers and a group of weight trainers, the researchers found that the dancing group had the greatest improvement in their brain function. Over six months, the dancers’ brains developed thicker white matter. The other groups showed subtle thinning in their brains’ wiring, with the greatest degeneration noticeable in those participants who were the most sedentary before joining the study.

Researchers concluded that the cognitive demands of dancing – the choreography, special orientation, social engagement, the use of music – affected the biochemistry of the brain tissue, and may boost the mental abilities in aging brains.

The seemingly miraculous results seen by those affected by Parkinson’s disease who take up dance is another encouraging reason to start considering dancing your way to better brain health.

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