Longtime readers of this newsletter know that there are many recommended ways to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
These include reading fiction, being social, exercising, eating well, playing board games and getting hearing aids if you’re experiencing age-related hearing loss.
And there’s another thing showing up in the research that can be beneficial for your brain as well as your social life…
Read on to discover an activity that can keep Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias away and that you can do with your favorite person… at home or out in public… and as fast or slow as you like…
Did you guess the activity I’m referring to is dancing?
Although dancing has long been praised for providing cardio exercise and stress reduction, scientific research is showing us that it’s good for your brain as well.
What a study of leisure activities and dementia revealed
A 21-year study (between 1980 and 2001) published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 followed the 469 participants of the Bronx Aging Study and researched the correlation of participation in leisure activities to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Participants were between the ages of 75 and 85 and free from dementia at baseline. They were interviewed about the frequency of participation in cognitive leisure activities such as writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles and playing musical instruments as well as physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, housework, bowling and dancing.
During the 21-year study researchers continually assessed participants’ brain functioning through observation, neuropsychological tests and the Blessed test (a short screening test designed to assess early cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias).
When they put the rates of dementia together with the participants’ leisure activity they made some remarkable discoveries…
Among cognitive activities reading, playing board games and playing musical instruments were associated with a lower risk of dementia. Dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia.(1)
While researchers discovered that reading correlated with a 35% reduction in the risk of dementia, they found that dancing was associated with a 76% reduction. The greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.(2)
You may be wondering if any kind of dancing provides this neurological benefit, and the answer is… probably not. The study falls short in that it doesn’t clearly identify the types of dancing the participants engaged in.
However, knowing what we do about neural pathways, we know that doing new things that test and increase intelligence encourages the brain to create more synapses and become stronger over time.
Dancing engages several brain functions at once: musical, emotional, rational and kinesthetic (the connection between your brain and your body). This kind of activity fires up thousands of neural pathways that, when done consistently and frequently, keep your brain firing on all cylinders.
We can deduce, based on the age of the participants and the years of the study that they grew up in the 1920s 1930s and 1940s dancing in the social ballroom style of “lead and follow,” which requires split-second decision making and attention to detail.
Dances like the Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Quickstep, Paso Doble and Rumba are lively, dynamic dances that require two people to be in sync with the music and with each other, requiring a great amount of concentration that builds neuroplasticity.
So free-form dancing and dance that simply retraces steps won’t give your brain the boost of synapse production like these other dances will. Although you’ll certainly reduce stress and get your blood flowing, which is essential to overall good health. So if you like to turn the radio on and move around, don’t stop that practice.
Frequency is important as well. The more often you do it, the stronger your synapses and the less your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
So start today and practice often!
- Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022252#t=articleTop
- Use it or lose it: Dancing makes you smarter. http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm