You might want to get your grandparents enrolled in a dance class. A new study has shown that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise, particularly dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain. As we grow older we suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness, which can be made worse by conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” said lead author of the study Dr Kathrin Rehfeld from 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 leads to noticeable behavioural changes in terms of improved balance,” Rehfeld added.
Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were recruited for the study and assigned either 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. This is important because this area can be prone to age-related decline and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s. It also plays a key role in memory and learning, as well as keeping one’s balance. Dr Rehfeld explains, “We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance).
Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. The research appears in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.