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Aging: Dancing Can Rear Signs of Aging in the Brain

As we turn older we undergo deterioration in mental and physical fitness. Deterioration in mental and physical fitness can be made worse by conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, indicates that older people who regularly partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. And dancing has the most profound effect.

How Can Dancing Rear Signs of Aging in the Brain?

“Exercise has the useful effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study. “In this study, we demonstrate that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that deteriorates aging. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to evident behavioral changes in terms of enhanced balance.”

Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were engaged to the study. They are assigned either an eighteen-month weekly course of learning dance routines, or endurance and flexibility training. Both groups exhibited an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is vital because this area can be susceptible to aging related decline and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s. It also plays a major part in memory and learning, as well as keeping one’s balance.

However previous research has displayed that physical exercise can fight aging in brain decline. To evaluate this, the exercise routines given to the volunteers contrasted. The traditional fitness training program led mostly repetitive exercises, such as cycling or Nordic walking. But the dance group was tested with something new each week.

Dr Rehfeld explains, “We tried to provide our seniors in 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 altered every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging phase for them was to remember the routines without any hints from the instructor.”

These extra challenges are thought to account for the perceptible difference in balance showed by those members in dancing group. Dr Rehfeld and her colleagues are building on this research to test new fitness programs. They are testing on new fitness programs that will have the potential of maximizing aging effects on the brain.

“Right now, we are assessing a new system called “Jymmin” (jamming and gymnastic). This is a sensor-based system which produces sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity. We know that dementia patients react intensely when listening to music. We want to combine promising characteristics of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients.”

Dr Rehfeld closes with advice that could get us up out of our seats and dancing to our favorite beat.

“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 elements that can contribute to this. Physical activity counteracts several risk factors and slowing down aging related decline. I think dancing is a great tool to set new tests for body and mind, especially in older age.”

This research study falls into a wider collection of research examining the cognitive and neural effects of physical and cognitive activity across the lifespan.

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