Here’s another great reason to move and groove to the beat. Researchers have found that older people that regularly dance reverse the signs of aging in their brains. It not just exercise for the body but also for the brain! It could even help to prevent against diseases like Alzheimer’s.

As we age, mental and physical fitness declines. However, regular exercise helps to slow and even reverse this decline. The benefit of exercise for seniors has already been established. What wasn’t known was if different exercises make any difference.

Twenty-six volunteers with an average age of 68 were selected for the study. They were randomly given a weekly 18-month routine or learning dance routines or endurance and flexibility training. The fitness training included mostly repetitive exercises like cycles and Nordic walking, while the dance group learned new routines every week. The seniors had many different dance routines from different genres such as Jazz, Square, Latin-American, and Line Dance.

Dancing helps seniors to keep their brains sharp and bodies fit. Image credits: Daniel Case.

Both groups had increased the volume of hippocampal areas in the brain. This area of the brain is very important for memory, learning, and balance. It is affected by aging and especially by diseases like Alzheimer’s.

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity. 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 lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance,” said Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany.

Only dancing also helped with the senior’s balance. It was challenging for the seniors to remember the dance routines when there was time pressure and without the instructor providing guides. Perhaps having to exercise and train their memory prompted their improvement. This study was quite small, so the results should be confirmed through other studies. Maybe other similar exercises would have the same improvement, such as water aerobics and fitness routines.

Taking their findings into account, the researchers are now designing a fitness routine especially for seniors to boost this positive anti-aging effects: think of it as brain training fitness.

“Right now, we are evaluating a new system called “Jymmin” (jamming and gymnastic). This is a sensor-based system which generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity. We know that dementia patients react strongly when listening to music. We want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients,” said Dr Kathrin Rehfeld.

So dancing and exercise, in general, is an important part of slowing down the negative parts of aging. It improves mental and physical condition as well as balance. Balance is a very important everyday function and impaired balance can lead to falls, which are a major risk for seniors. Dance is a great mix of training that helps seniors in multiple ways, maybe it also brings a smile to their faces.

Journal reference: Rehfeld, K., Müller, P., Aye, N., Schmicker, M., Dordevic, M., Kaufmann, J., Hökelmann, A. & Müller, N.G. (2017) Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 11, 305.

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