When it comes to aging, most of us don’t mind the process too much. We can embrace the changes in our bodies because we know the wisdom, life experiences, and general understanding of the world that we now possess are invaluable.

We have more time now and, frankly, we have more fun. We’re free to explore the world in ways we never had the opportunity to enjoy it before.

However, a decline in our mental and physical abilities often occurs as we grow older, giving us cause for concern and a bit of trepidation with each passing year. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia worry us and we look for ways to keep our minds sharp as long as we can.

The Study

Thanks to a new study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, dancing may be the key to keeping our minds young.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. “In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”

In this study, older adults were put into one of two exercise groups for a period of 18 months. One group was given weekly repetitive exercises such as cycling and walking to increase endurance and flexibility. The other group also met weekly and was taught new dance routines every other week, varying in genre, speed, pattern, and formation.

The Results

The results showed that the dancing group displayed a noticeable difference in balance, possibly because they were challenged to use their memories to recall the dance routines under pressure without any cues from their instructor.

They also showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain which regulates emotions, memory function (in particular long-term memory), and spatial navigation, according to Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD.

The other group also showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain, but did not show any measurable difference in behavior.

Exercise Benefits Both the Body and the Brain

While significant research has proven that exercise has a profound effect on slowing the aging process of our minds, this study was the first to show us specifically which exercises might give us the most benefits.

“I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible,” concludes Dr. Rehfeld.  “Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”

Do you enjoy dancing? Have you ever taken a dance class? What are your favorite types of dances? Are you involved in any other activities that keep both your body and your mind active? Join in the conversation!

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