Dancing improved balance, motor skills and enlarged region of brain associated with short-term memory loss in elderly
In recent years researchers have discovered the amazing ability of aerobic exercise to slow brain degeneration. A new study shows dancing is potentially the most valuable exercise to this end.
Last summer researchers from two German universities and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases studied 26 elderly women divided into two 18-month exercise programs.
The first was a traditional aerobic fitness program including repetitive exercises, such as cycling on walking on a treadmill. The second was and a dancing program. The second was a specially designed dance program, in which participants constantly had to learn new choreographies.
At the end of the program their brains were measured and they were given a balance test. The results were published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
The hippocampus region of the brain in both sets of women grew significantly larger, but only those in the dancing group had improved balance.
The hippocampus is affected not only by pathological aging such as Alzheimer’s disease, but also by the normal aging process resulting in loss of memory, learning, and spatial navigation. Recent research has shown the hippocampus is among the few brain regions with the ability to generate new neurons throughout life.
Studies have shown that cardio-respiratory exercise is one of the primary drivers of this adulthood neuron generation or “neuroplasticity.”
On top of neuron generation, the dancers also showed an increased balance composite score and they improved in all three involved sensory systems.
“This indicates that dancing drives all three senses and presumably also improves the integration of sensorimotor, visual and vestibular information,” the primary author of the report Kathrin Rehfeld wrote.
“In sum, the present results indicate that both dance and fitness training can induce hippocampal plasticity in the elderly, but only dance training improved balance capabilities.”
Rehfeld said further clinical trials are needed to determine whether dancing has the potential to reduce or postpone the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but says the results of her recent study are promising.