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Ballroom to boogie: How dancing can improve seniors’ brain health

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Dancing is great exercise for the muscles and the heart, and it also involves a heavy cognitive demand. Seniors who dance regularly must memorize movements and routines and react in the moment, particularly if they dance with partners. Activities such as running, cycling, or swimming are more linear, meaning participants don’t need to think about the next movement – they just do it.

Dance, like any form of exercise, benefits seniors in many ways. Regular physical, mental, and social stimulation is the gold standard recommendation for reducing the risk of dementia. Because it involves all three, dancing can be seen as a “triple-threat” option for older adults who want to protect their brains. However, research shows that only one-third of adults in the U.S. get the recommended amount of exercise, which is 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week. By finding activities they enjoy, seniors can experience more of the heart- and brain-healthy benefits of exercise.

Part of what makes dancing unique from other forms of exercise is the addition of music. Musical rhythms stimulate certain areas of the brain often known as our “rewards centers.” These regions are associated with the chemical dopamine, which affects happiness and well-being as well as movement and thinking. Dancing also stimulates the motor and sensory circuits in the brain. These benefits combined offer older adults a unique brain activation they might not get from the gym.

(UTSouthWestern Medical Centre – October 2018)

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