- Tara Albright DPT
Mixing up an exercise routine can help prevent things from feeling monotonous and make it easier to be consistent with incorporating physical activity into your normal routine. If you’re wanting to try something new, how about dancing? Dance doesn’t just have to be reserved for professionals to perform in grand theaters with thousands of people watching. You can dance at home, take a class, or go to a social dance (after the pandemic ends, of course).
There has been growing research on the physical and cognitive benefits of dance. Creative movement and dance is unique with its physical and mental components that combine with emotional and spiritual elements. This combination has different effects on the brain compared to standard exercise. Pair that with the effects of music on the brain, and amazing things with neuroplasticity happen. Dance and creative movement activate the brain’s sensory and motor circuits while music stimulates the brain’s reward centers. As a result, stress hormones are decreased and new neural connections are built, particularly in the region of the brain responsible for long-term memory, executive function, and spatial recognition.
Dancing isn’t just for the young either. Research shows that dance has a great effect on reducing the risk of dementia as we age. One study looked at the effects of eleven types of physical activities that older generations typically participate in and dance was the only activity that was associated with a significantly lowered risk of dementia (this reduction was by 76% too!). However, they did not have enough participants playing golf or tennis regularly to make a strong case for these activities also reducing the risk of dementia.
Another study compared the effects of 6 months of a dance program to 6 months of a typical exercise program for an elderly population. This study revealed more significant increases in the dance group with regards to the amount of white matter in the brain. Specifically, the corpus callosum (the part of the brain that allows the two different hemispheres to communicate) showed increases in size. This part of the brain typically degrades as we age and contributes to poor cognitive performance.
So whether you’re thinking about taking a dance fitness class again, trying a form of dance or creative movement class that’s new to you, dancing in the kitchen, or going to a social dance, give it a go! It’s a fun way to reduce stress and boost your brain!
Machado L. T. et al., (2018). Dance for neuroplasticity: A descriptive systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.12.010
Rehfeld K, Lu¨ders A, Ho¨kelmann A, Lessmann V, Kaufmann J, Brigadski T, et al. (2018) Dance training is superior to repetitive physical exercise in inducing brain plasticity in the elderly. PLoS ONE 13(7): e0196636. https://doi.org/ 10.1371/journal.pone.0196636
Verghese, J. et al., (2003). Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022252