Dancing to Better Health

Posted by GO Medical on

I'm not much of a dancer but my niece performs and teaches dance. From what a recent article shares about improving memory, mental mood and balance and coordination perhaps its time to get out the dancing shoes! Here's some of the story:

Improving memory

Doctors have been trying for decades to find innovative ways to slow the cognitive decline seen in older adults. Aga Burzynska, assistant professor of human development at Colorado State University, wondered whether keeping them active would slow memory loss.

"As we get older, in general, our cognitive functions start declining," she said.

So Burzynska focused her research on the issue and looked into ways to combat the deterioration. The resulting study was published this year in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Researchers looked at adults ranging from their 60s to their 80s who had no signs of memory loss or impairment. Participants were assigned to one of three activities: brisk walking, stretching and balance training, or dance classes.

Three times a week, those in the dance group practiced and learned country dance choreography.

The goal, Burzynska said, was to see "how increasing aerobic exercise, increasing aerobic activities or introducing activities such as dance can help protect our brains from aging."

At the end of the study, brain scans were done on all participants and compared with scans taken before the activities began. The dancers fared better and had less deterioration in their brains than the other groups.

Burzynska says this makes sense, because unlike aerobic exercise or stretching workouts, "there was definitely a lot of memory involved and a lot of learning."

Mental escape

We've all been in need of a "mental break" from time to time. Dancing, Sandow says, can offer the escape your brain needs. "It's a good counter-activity to being stuck on a screen and being home."

And science agrees. A 2014 study found positive changes in mood for recreational dancers. Participants had higher energy levels and were less tense compared with competition dancers, who had stress levels similar to those of other competitive athletes.

Not unlike a "runner's high," rhythmic movement has been shown to trigger the release of endorphins, which can boost your mood.

Personally, Sandow uses dance classes to recenter herself. "I find it's a very indulgent time to just concentrate on myself. My brain quiets down, and it's nonverbal, so I don't feel like my mind is running," she said.

As much of a mental exercise as a physical one, dancing keeps the mind sharp. A 2011 study found that dancing as we age helps improve cognitive flexibility, known to decline even in high-functioning older adults.

In adolescent females, a regular dance class positively impacted their mental health. A study by the American Medical Association found that adolescent girls had more positive thoughts and felt more confidence after dancing. They reported better feelings about their overall health after participating in structured dance classes that focused on enjoying movement rather than perfection and performance.

Balance and coordination

Each year, more than one out of four adults 65 and older suffers a fall. At the same time, millions of children and teens injure themselves playing sports. And although the two incidents may seem incredibly different, the potential solution is the same: fall like a dancer. Techniques taught in dance classes increase body awareness and encourage low-impact landings. These techniques, Sandow says, are not only useful for dancers on stage but for athletes who play impact sports, children developing motor skills and older adults concerned about injuries. 

"The aging population is at high risk for falls, and we think dance, especially, can be beneficial in reducing the risk of falls, because dance is just a series of balance tests," Sandow said.

Here's the entire CNN article: Health Benefits to Dancing


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