It is probably no surprise that dancing is a great source of physical exercise, but did you know it can also be a mentally stimulating activity?
Dancing is such a helpful and healthy activity for older adults because it has positive effects on strength and mobility, balance, cardiovascular health, social skills, and even cognitive function. Plus, there is the bonus of listening to music which can elevate the mood and lift the spirits!
How does dancing impact cognitive health?
Extensive research has been done to demonstrate that physical exercise has a positive effect on cognitive health. Dancing adds an extra level to the physical benefits because it involves memory, pattern recognition, and anticipation.
Examples of the challenges involved in dancing are:
- Recognizing the beat to follow
- Remember the steps
- Executing turns
- Anticipating and accommodating partners movements
- Bringing it all together in time with the music
These are what are known as sensorimotor demands, which involve receiving sensory input and formulating an appropriate response.
Reducing the Risk of Dementia
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that of the 11 physical activities examined in the study, only dancing showed signs of reduced risk of dementia. Additional activities analyzed in the study were golf, tennis, swimming, and cycling.
Other studies have been done on seniors with minor cognitive impairment to find that after 10 months of ballroom dancing, improvements were made in memory and cognitive abilities.
Dancing has also been known to reduce severity of Parkinson’s symptoms, such as balance, coordination, tremors, and stiffness.
Areas of the Brain Vital to Cognitive Health
There are various areas in the brain that play an important role in maintaining healthy cognitive function. Three of these areas are:
- Motor cortex
- Basal ganglia
This is a region of the brain that deals with learning, memory, spatial acuity, and information consolidation. The hippocampus tends to shrink as we get older, but dancing can help stimulate the hippocampus to keep it active.
Located in the frontal lobe of the brain, the motor cortex is largely responsible for motor function. It also plays a role in preparation and planning, muscle control, and voluntary movement.
The basal ganglia are found at the base of the brain and are strongly linked with the thalamus, cerebral cortex, and the brain stem. They are associated with procedural learning, coordination, and cognition.
Dancing is such a healthy activity for seniors because it not only involves motor movements, but also memory and thinking on the move, and the cognitive skills to put it all together.
Additional Health Benefits of Dancing
Aside from improving strength and mobility, and cognitive function, dancing also has other health benefits to take advantage of, including:
- Reduced stress
- Energy boost
- Enhanced confidence
- Increased motivation
Stress is one of the largest contributors to health problems in North America. Chronic stress can lead to an assortment of severe health issues, like:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular problems
Dancing is not only a good distraction from everyday routines, music can have a very calming effect on the body and mind.
Poor posture can have negative health effects and increase the risk of injury from falls. Dancing can strengthen muscles in the legs, core, and back that help improve posture, encourage you to stand up straighter, and reduce the risk of injury due to falls.
Many seniors report a lack of energy and feelings of fatigue throughout the day. It doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, but studies show that expending energy through regular physical activity can actually have the effect of increasing overall energy levels.
Learning how to do something has the natural effect of increasing confidence. Every time you master a new dance step, it can help boost confidence and energy levels at the same time. This heightened level of confidence then tends to spill over into everyday life.
Also, since dancing is a social activity, building strong social relationships helps improve self-esteem and contributes to a positive outlook.
Sometimes it can be difficult to even find the motivation to get out of bed in the morning. Participating in an exciting new activity can help put some spring in your step and provide a sense of purpose. Trying and succeeding at one new activity often inspires the motivation to try another.