Dancing may help fend off aging in the brain
The waltz won’t do. Norwill the rumba.
Looks like the good, old- fashioned square dance, a. k. a. contra dancing, accompanied by a fiddle and a helpful caller, could keep older brains firing on all pistons.
At least that’s the conclusion of a Colorado State University study that tracked what happens to the brain’s “white matter” in older adults.
The CSU research team found that dance training in contra or English country dancing — think square dancing, but in lines — seems to have a positive effect on the fornix, a white- matter tract in the middle of the brain that is basically the brain’s wiring. The fornix connects the hippocampus to other areas of the brain and seems to play an important role in memory, researchers say.
The quality of a brain’s wiring deteriorates as people age, causing disruptions in the transmission of electrical messages in the brain that control everything from emotions, movements and complex reasoning, said lead researcher Aga Burzynska.
Burzynska’s team found that integrity of the fornix increased in the dance group, despite the fact that integrity declined in half of the other participants involved in other activities.
Maybe because dance training incorporates exercise, social interaction and learning, the fornix got healthier in the dance group, Burzynska said.
“Our brain does age,” she said, “maybe faster than we previously thought, but it seems that there are things we do that can modulate it. The lifestyle that people choose can predict the decline.”
But it’s not just any dance that will save brains. Researchers said contra dancing is best because it “minimizes lead- follow roles. Instead these social dances required participants to move between partners during each dance.”
Contra dance is a folk dance made up of long lines of couples. Throughout the course of a dance, couples progress up and down those lines, dancing with other couples in the line. The dance is led by a caller who teaches the sequence of figures in the dance before the music starts.
But key changes are made during the course of a dance, which means participants must stay on their toes.
The fiddle is considered the core instrument of the dance but other stringed instruments such as the guitar, banjo, bass and mandolin are also brought into play.
The randomized clinical trial, funded by the National Institutes of Health, took four years to complete. The findings were identified in a group of 174 health adults between the ages of 60 and 79 who met three times a week for six months in a gymat the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign.
The subjects were randomly assigned into four groups: one participated in aerobic walking, one did the same aerobic walking and took a daily nutritional supplement, one attended stretching and balance classes and one took the dance classes. The dance classes were taught by experienced dance instructors and involved choreographed and social group dances that challenged participants’ cognitive and motor- learning abilities.
Each participant’s white matter microstructure was measured using non- invasive, diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging at the beginning and at six months.
Participants in the exercise- only group, meanwhile, didn’t exhibit the same benefits to the for mix. That leads researchers to be believe there is more benefit in activities like dance, that simultaneously provide cognitive and social stimulation in addition to physical activity, a key finding in the study.