We all know physical activity is good for us – but is one type of physical activity “better” for us than another?
Researchers at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases compared two fitness routine – dancing and endurance training – over 18 months in volunteers with an average age of 68. The study has shown that older people who regularly take part in physical exercise can have an anti-ageing effect on the elderly – and dancing has the biggest impact.
“We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres,” said Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study based , citing such forms as jazz dance, square dance, Latin and line dance. “Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed, and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor.”
While both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus area of the brain, the researchers believe that the extra challenges stated above account for the noticeable differences in balance displayed by the participants in the dancing group. This is important because this brain region is prone to age-related decline and can be affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s. The hippocampus also plays a key role in memory and learning, as well as keeping one’s balance.
Why is dance so good for the brain?
The “multimodal” nature of dance – its physical and mental components – might be behind the extra brain boost. The researchers credit this improvement to the challenge of learning new dance routines, compared to the traditional fitness program which mainly uses repetitive exercises such as cycling and walking. Along with that mental challenge, dance also involves coordinating movement with music – which we already know how it affects the brain (read The Power of Music here). Plus, there’s the fun!
The research team is now building on these findings to try out new fitness programs that have the potential of maximizing anti-aging effects on the brain. They are currently developing a new program called ‘Jymmin’ (jamming and gymnastics) to trial on people with dementia. This is a sensor-based system which generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity. It is already known that dementia patients react strongly when listening to music. Therefore, they want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients.
It’s already been proven that physical activity is one of the best things you can do to slow down the effects of ageing. Why not kick up your heels and have some fun at the same time too?