Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, the lead author of a study, based at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases Magdeburg, Germany stated that there are several benefits of exercise, including slowing down or even halting age-related decline in physical and mental capacity.
The study showed that 2 different kinds of exercises (endurance training and dancing) and both did improve the area of the brain that usually declines with age. The study also showed that of the two, only dancing resulted in a significant behavioral change in terms of improved balance.
The study was done with a population sample of elderly volunteers who had an average age of 68 and were all assigned either 18-month weekly learning course for dance routines or endurance and flexibility training. Members of both groups witnessed a significant increase in the hippocampus region of the brain.
This is crucial because that is the area of the brain that is prone to age-related decline and is the part of the brain affected by diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. It is also crucial in learning and memory as well as maintaining a balance.
There are several old studies that have revealed that exercise has the capacity to combat age-related decline however, it has never been said that some exercise routines are more effective than others. The regular fitness program involved a certain activity repeated again and again while the dancing routines involved learning something new every week.
Dr. Rehfeld explains; we made efforts to keep providing new dance moves to our seniors in the dance groups (Line, Latin-American, Square and Jazz). Formations, rhythms, speed, arm-patterns and steps were all changed on a weekly basis to ensure that they kept learning something new every week.
The biggest challenge they had was to remember the routines under time pressure without any clue from the instructor. It is assumed that it is these extra challenges that account for the significant difference displayed by the dance participants.
She noted that at the moment, they are trying out a new system called ‘Jymmin’ (jamming and gymnastics). This system is based on the activities f the elderly participants generating sounds based on physical activity.
We are well aware of the positive reaction of dementia patients to music. Our aim is to combine the aspects of physical activity that is promising with active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients.
She concluded by giving us a piece of advice that could prompt us to get up on our feet and start dancing to our favorite beat. “I know that we all want to live a healthy and independent life for as long as possible.
Physical activities are one of the factors that can enhance our chances at achieving this. Dancing is an amazing tool because it sets a new challenge for our body and mind especially as we get older” this research is part of a broader collection of research focusing on the cognitive and neural effects of physical and cognitive activity all through a person’s lifespan.