This month we focus on relationships. It’s February, after all – the month of romance, of connecting and of celebrating the people special to us.
Each week – each day, really – the world presents new research, a new angle or scientific finding that slightly shifts the way we see the world around us. And last year was no different.
New research has shown that older people who participate regularly in some kind of physical exercise can undo aspects of the mental signs of ageing – both physical and mental.
But did you know that dancing has the most powerful effect of all of them?
Dance as if no-one is watching
I have never been a great dancer myself. I have tried ballroom dancing but my tendency to aim for only perfection made it a job rather than a joy.
Then, recently, I signed up with a wonderful friend of 10 years who runs a Nia dancing class – I love it! It is free dancing, so no right or wrong moves, and I have found it so much fun … but it is also good for my health, according to researchers.
A recent study assigned older volunteers – on average, aged 68 – to an 18-month weekly course of learning either dance routines or endurance and flexibility training. The findings show that both groups exhibited an increase in one area of their brains – the hippocampus. This part of the brain is easily prone to age-related decline and therefore affected by the various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The hippocampus helps with memory, leaning and balance.
That physical exercise helps to slow down age-related decline is no surprise. As Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study and an expert based at the German centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany, explains: “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity.”
But that dancing was the more effective of the two is what piqued my interest. The non-dancing group did normal exercises, exercises that were repetitive – as most exercise is (too much so, if you ask me!). The dancers, however, were presented with a new challenge each week.
Dr. Rehfeld adds that in comparison, it was only dancing that led to noticeable behavioural changes in terms of improved balance. This was because the dancing group was given changing dance routines with different rhythms and steps. That’s the creativity of dance for you. In her view, “Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”
So, we have it from the experts then: dancing can improve overall health, brain speed and memory. Moving and learning from something as lovely as dance? What a graceful way to age. Or, as the case may be, not age. 😉