Dancing for Brain Health
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The brain is the most important organ in the body. It’s responsible for controlling everything our bodies do consciously and unconsciously. It’s often overlooked when we think about physical fitness and keeping our bodies healthy but it’s vital to understand how we can enhance brain health, functionality and longevity.
We tend to associate aging as a culprit for memory loss, confusion, dementia and loss of cognitive functions. It’s true that as we age, we get slower. Our muscular endurance, power and muscle mass decrease. We might also take longer to process information. But aging does not have to be associated with loss of independence.
Exercising your brain
Your brain can’t pick up weights at the gym to keep it strong, so what can you do to make sure your brain is getting the exercise it needs?
Dance. Dancing has many benefits for our physical health, as it provides you with enhanced mobility, flexibility, coordination and calorie burn among others.
It also has many benefits to brain health as well, as it involves learning routines, practicing muscle memory and other aspects of cognitive thinking.
“At the end of my class with seniors we do a 10-minute dance routine.” Carla Sottovia, PhD, Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer, said. “When you dance, you’re remembering movements, doing a sequence and staying on beat with music. All of that exercises your brain.”
A few of the brain health benefits of dancing according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine include:
- Boosts cognitive development - Anytime you learn something new, you develop new synapses between your neurons, which stimulate brain development. Taking dance classes, you continue to learn new dance moves and memorize choreography with each class. This helps develop more connections within your brain that boost overall development.
- Boosts muscle memory - It's no secret that dancers are always moving. They continually challenge their bodies to learn new dance moves and to move in different ways. These dance moves encourage their muscles to stretch, lengthen and grow. Because of this, dancers develop a stronger muscle memory, which involves the body remembering the movements and being able to repeat them over and over again.
- Decreases the risk of dementia - Many physical activities decrease the risk of developing dementia when you are older. In fact, many studies indicate the risk drops more than 50% when you are involved in physical activities at a younger age. From dancing to bicycling to swimming, many exercises can help improve brain health.
- Combats dizziness - Many dancers can twirl for what seems like hours, which shows they don't have issues with dizziness. In fact, twirling improves their balance and coordination. When they engage in this frequent motion, their brains adapt to the motion—suppressing signals from the inner ear—and prevent dizziness without them even knowing it.
Dance has such beneficial effects on the brain that it is now used to treat people with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological movement disorder. Research at Coventry University in England showed frequent dancing of any kind was linked to a 76% lower risk of dementia.
Studies using PET imaging identified the regions of the brain that contribute to learning dance and performance. These regions include:
- Motor cortex - involved in the planning, control and execution of voluntary movement
- Somatosensory cortex - located in the mid region of the brain, responsible for motor control and plays a role in eye-hand coordination
- Basal ganglia - a group of structures deep in the brain that work with other brain regions to smoothly coordinate movement
- Cerebellum - integrates input from the brain and spinal cord and helps in the planning of fine and complex motor actions
Adding dancing to your exercise routine
To reap the benefits of dancing, you don’t need to prepare for a ballet stage. In a 2018 study by Coventry University, amateur salsa dancers were evaluated before and after a 30-minute dancing session. After dancing, results showed their spatial working memory and the ability to hold onto visual information in the brain increased by 18% with modest improvement in cognitive function.
“For the brain health benefits, the dancing has to involve choreography. You need to remember the steps,” Sottovia said. "It’s about the movement patterns you’re consciously doing in rhythm with music.”
For some basic dance movements you can add to your routine, watch our Exercise Move video from Professional Fitness Trainer Angela Horner, MS. Or find a dance class or choreographed group exercise class you enjoy at your local gym or dance studio. Cooper Fitness Center offers several dance fitness classes such as Dallas Dance Fitness, Move ’N Groove, Classics Dance and Studio Jam.
There are many benefits to dancing for the brain. So, if you're looking for a way to improve your cognitive function—and have fun—consider adding dance classes to your weekly routine.
More than 100 weekly group exercise classes are offered at Cooper Fitness Center members—all included with membership. View the group exercise schedule. For more information on personal training or to schedule a session with a professional fitness trainer, visit cooperfitnesscenter.com or call 972.233.4832.