A study has found that elderly people can reverse signs of aging in the brain by performing physical exercise, with dancing in particular being most effective.
The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, and led by scientists from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Magdeburg, Germany.
The study size was small, but brain studies usually are as MRI scans are expensive. There were 26 participants in total, with 14 being in the “dancing” group with an average age of 67. The fitness group had 12 people, with an average age of 69.
Over 18 months, the dancing group were given a weekly course of learning dance routines. The fitness group, meanwhile, went through endurance and flexibility training.
Both of the groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is important as this region is related to diseases like Alzheimer’s, and also plays a role in memory and balance. However, only the dancing group also showed a significant increase in improving their balance, which may be due to them learning a new routine every week.
"We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance),” said Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, who led the study, in a statement. “Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor."
The team now wants to use this research to trial new fitness programs to help prevent age-related decline in the brain. They call this “Jymmin”, a mash-up of jamming and gymnastics. This is a sensor-based system that generates sounds based on physical activity.
In their paper, they note that larger studies need to be performed in the future to further investigate the effect. The early signs, though, suggest that dancing into your old age could help offset diseases like Alzheimer’s. So get jamming, people.
"I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible,” said Dr Rehfeld. “I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age."