Why Is Dancing So Good for Your Brain?
Throughout the entire human history, dancing has represented many things. It has been a part of important rituals, part of many celebrations, as a form of entertainment, as a way of relieving stress and expressing oneself.
Most of us have come into contact with some type of dance, whether it was taking dancing lessons growing up, or shying away from dancing due to the belief that you were born with two left feet. Either way, no one can deny that dancing feels great, and it also aids the body.
That’s right. Other than the many other uses it has, like sharing culture and stories through dancing, or making contact with others when language is a barrier, this form of expression has many benefits to offer one’s health, as well.
We aren’t simply referring to the physical benefits either (staying in top shape with classes like Zumba), but mental ones, which have largely been ignored up till now. In fact, recent studies suggest that dancing may be the best way for both strengthening and protecting one’s brain.
Your Brain and Dancing
Researchers in North America are constantly looking for ways to prevent, minimalize and treat age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s, Dementia and Alzheimer’s. While it is no novelty news that exercising can benefit one’s brain health, it now appears that dancing, in particular, is most beneficial.
Why? Well, we’d like to delve into a few very good reasons. Read on if you’re interested.
1. Constant Learning
The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases’s Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld conducted a study. In it, she made a comparison between various elderly groups given specific exercise routines for about 18 months.
While some had been assigned flexibility and endurance training (cycling or Nordic walking), one group was assigned weekly dance lessons. Plus, each week they were given something new, whether it was a new step, new routine or new genre.
And while there was an increase in the brain’s hippocampus center (an area which is especially vulnerable to age-related diseases and decline) in all groups, the dance group was the one which experienced the most noticeable difference.
And because their dance moves and rhythms were changed every two weeks, they were constantly challenged with something new, as well as being part of a constant learning process.
The most challenging bit of all was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without the help of their instructor. This is what Dr. Rehfeld had to say on the matter.
2. Balance and Coordination
Even for the best of us, coordination and balance are not always so easy. And it becomes harder as we age. The challenges one faces with aging is the increased likelihood of becoming dizzy, losing one’s balance, and falling.
As a result, the older one gets, the more likely they are to experience a severe injury due to this loss of balance. The great news is, dancing improves and trains all of the areas mentioned above.
- Turns, spins, quick movements from one side to the other, as well as up-and-down movements, train one’s inner ear and brain to learn to deal with such sharp movements and quick changes. This is useful, as it will make one less dizzy during their daily activities which require movement.
- Only a rare number of dance moves occur with one’s feet planted firmly on the floor. Dancing helps you in strengthening a wide variety of muscles in your hips, legs, and feet, and even your core. Which means even if you end up losing balance, you have more of a chance to ‘catch yourself’.
- Much of what you develop while learning new dances is muscle memory and coordination. The more you practice your dance routines and try out new ones, the more you nurture your neurons and brain-muscle connection.
3. Improved Memory
Almost everyone, if given the choice, would love to improve their memory. This goes especially for older adults. After all, the inability to recall names, numbers, places, facts, and dates is all part of the regular aging process in most people.
But it may be an indication to Dementia and Alzheimer’s in some cases. The beauty of dancing is that one connects the mental (learning new steps as well as the order they came in) with the physical (executing the routine itself).
This results in both strengthening the neuronal connections in one’s brain and an improved memory down the road.
4. Music Stimulates the Brain’s Activity
For quite a while now, researchers and scientists who study diseases of the neurodegenerative type, have attested to the immense impact which music offers our brain. This applies particularly for those who happen to suffer from cognitive decline.
In fact, there is a 2x power when it comes to dancing: one’s reward centers in the brain become stimulated by the music, and the sensory and motor circuits are also activated when one starts to dance.
As a matter of fact, studies relating to Parkinson’s disease, discovered that those who learned and practiced dance had improved their balance, which also greatly reduced their chances of falling.
But that’s not all: they also reported a slower rate of decline in their motor control, as well as a slower progression of this disease in general.
5. Dancing Makes You Happy
Go to any club, bar, pub, dance class, concert or wedding, and what can you find there? Happy individuals who are enjoying the movement of their bodies to the music.
The beneficial effects of being happy and positive when it comes to health and longevity are many. This is because:
- It’s physical. Meaning, it gets you moving. And whatever your preferred dancing style is, chances are it’ll make you at least a little bit sweaty and panting by the end of it. This natural and fun form of exercising does wonders for one’s muscles, lungs, joints, and heart. And besides, it’s a fantastic way to burn so many calories, all while having fun.
- It helps with shedding stress. As you may have been informed, stress is the #1 cause of most health problems and illnesses nowadays. Not to mention the strain it puts on both our mental and physical well-being. Dancing helps you forget about your daily worries. Or at least, put them aside for later, giving you the time to ‘let go’. Let us quote a popular young singer in one of her songs (which is great to dance to, by the way): “shake it off”.
- It allows one to connect with others. Whether you are dancing romantically with your sweetheart, or you have chosen to accept the invitation from a complete stranger, dancing is an excellent way to socialize and bond with others. In older individuals, isolation has become an everyday issue, leading to not just diseases, but also cognitive decline, or even a premature death. So why not grab an elderly person who happens to be sitting alone at the next social gathering where dancing is an option. Not only will you brighten up their day, but you will also contribute to the improvement of their health, as well as your own.
It’s safe to conclude that dancing, in all its forms, holds benefits for not just our physical, but emotional and mental well-being too. This goes especially for all of you which are slowly but surely entering your ‘golden years’.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a good dancer or not. All that matters is to have fun while also protecting and improving your brain’s activity and overall health. Stay healthy, dear readers.