In addition to providing physical, psychological, and social benefits, did you know that dancing is also really good for your brain?
In a new study from Germany in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers divided healthy people 63 and older into two training groups. Half of the group did repetitive exercises that did not require new learning, and the other half enrolled in a dance program that required them to continually learn challenging new routines. Classes were held twice a week for six months, and then once a week for the next 12 months.
As seen in MRIs, both groups had increases in gray matter in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in learning, long term memory, and spatial navigation. However, the dancers had increases in more parts of this brain structure, and also had significant improvements in balance.
Atrophy in the hippocampus is part of the normal aging process, especially after age 70, but the great news is that this is one of the brain areas that can actually generate new neurons in response to physical and mental challenges – like dancing! The key to the process, known as neuroplasticity, is to be moving while solving a cognitive task.
As we get older, many of us are worried about “losing our marbles.” The authors of this study concluded that, “the additional challenges involved in our dance program, namely cognitive and sensorimotor stimulation, induced extra hippocampus volume changes in addition to those attributable to physical fitness alone.”
Even if you think you have “two left feet,” dancing, or doing some kind of activity that challenges you to learn new things while you are moving, will help you to keep those marbles!