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Jan 15

Dancing Good for the Brain; Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience


April 06, 2017


Learning to dance might help aging brains more than walking or other forms of exercise. New research suggests the particular physical and cognitive demands of learning country-style dance slows the brain changes of aging better than walking or other activities.


Researchers from the University of Illinois studied a group of 174 people in their 60s and 70s. The participants had no signs of cognitive impairment, and had been largely sedentary before the study. They were tested for aerobic fitness, and cognitive skill and speed. They were also given a brain MRI. 


The participants were then randomly selected into three groups: one group would walk an hour three times per week, the second did a supervised program of stretching and balance training, and the third learned to dance.The dance group went to a dance studio for an hour, three times per week to learn country-style dance steps and patterns of increasing intricacy. 


After six months, the participants returned to the lab for repeat testing. Most people showed some signs of deteriorization on brain scans. The signs were subtle, but widespread. 


However, the dance group showed some signs of improvement on scans, particularly in the part of the brain connected with speed and memory. Researchers surmise that the cognitive demands of learning complicated steps affected the biochemistry of the brain, increasing the thickness and quality of the brain's wiring. They believe this may suggest that any activity which involves cognitive challenges with moving and socializing could improve mental abilities in aging brains.


All groups showed improvements on cognitive tests, in spite of the scan results, indicating there may be a lag between brain changes and when those physical changes affect cognition.


The researchers caution that more study is necessary. This was a small study - only 174 people - for a short period of time - six months. 


The study was published the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.