Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Anti-Aging Effects of Dance!


One of the things I often blog about is the benefits of dance, for children and adults. When I come across some interesting research, I like to pass it along. Much of the information for this post is from:

Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld,  the lead author of this recent study, is based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, in Magdeburg, Germany. Several previous studies have shown that physical exercise has an anti-aging effect on the hippocampus region of the brain, an area that controls memory, learning and balance.  

Dr. Rehfield's new study compares two basic but different forms of exercise -- dancing versus endurance training -- undertaken by elderly volunteers (with an average age of 68), for 18 months.  The outcomes show that both can have an anti-aging effect on the brain, but only dancing corresponded to a noticeable difference in behavior.  This difference is attributed to the extra challenge of learning dance routines. 

The study compared volunteers who either took an eighteen-month weekly course of learning dance routines, or endurance and flexibility training.  Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. But the group who danced weekly, with changing routines, rhythm, patterns, and steps, in order to challenge their memories, showed a noticeable difference in balance.  Dr. Rehfield says "I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age."

I will add my two cents here from my long career of teaching dance.  When you are learning a new dance -- line dancing, square dancing, hip-hop, folk, zumba, ballroom,  ballet, etc. -- your brain and body are working together in a variety of ways. First, there is the basic learning and then memorization of steps.  But where are you in space? Which direction do you go with the steps?  What is the count of the music you are dancing to, and how do the steps synch with the music? What are the music cues you are listening for? What is the rhythm of the steps? 

And there's more! Where are you going in relation to other people who are dancing with you? How do you interact with them, and when?  What do the arms do while the legs are doing the different steps? What patterns do you recognize in the steps, that might help you remember the sequence? Do any of the steps repeat? How? Do they repeat in the same way, or in a different direction, different count, different rhythm?  

This is a lot to think about!

There are so many factors involved in learning a dance. But the challenge is worth it.  Once you have learned a dance, you have the satisfaction of performing it over and over, and knowing you have accomplished something that can be difficult at first. The good news is that it does get easier with practice. So whatever form of dancing you find that you enjoy, stick with it, and according to study after study,  both your body and your brain will benefit.

Moving Is Learning!

Keep on Dancin',



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