Dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain

August 25, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

As we grow older we suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness, which can be made worse by conditions like Alzheimer's disease. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, shows that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain, and dancing has the most profound effect.

"Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting in mental and physical capacity," says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. "In this study, we show that two different types of physical (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance."

Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were recruited to the study and assigned either an eighteen-month weekly course of learning dance routines, or endurance and flexibility training. Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is important because this area can be prone to age-related and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer's. It also plays a key role in memory and learning, as well as keeping one's balance.

While previous research has shown that can combat age-related brain decline, it is not known if one type of exercise can be better than another. To assess this, the exercise routines given to the volunteers differed. The traditional fitness training program conducted mainly repetitive exercises, such as cycling or Nordic walking, but the dance group were challenged with something new each week.

Dr Rehfeld explains, "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). 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."

These extra challenges are thought to account for the noticeable difference in balance displayed by those participants in dancing group. Dr Rehfeld and her colleagues are building on this research to trial new fitness programs that have the potential of maximizing anti-aging effects on the brain.

"Right now, we are evaluating a new system called "Jymmin" (jamming and gymnastic). This is a sensor-based system which generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on . We know that dementia patients react strongly when listening to music. We want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients."

Dr Rehfeld concludes with advice that could get us up out of our seats and dancing to our favorite beat.

"I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. I think is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age."

This study falls into a broader collection of research investigating the cognitive and neural effects of physical and cognitive activity across the lifespan.

Explore further: How physical exercise prevents dementia

More information: Kathrin Rehfeld et al, Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00305

Related Stories

How physical exercise prevents dementia

July 21, 2017
Numerous studies have shown that physical exercise seems beneficial in the prevention of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Now researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have explored in one of the first studies ...

Mind-body maximizes benefits of exercise to seniors

August 4, 2017
By 2035, a third of the Canadian population will be over 60 years old. And Kinesiology PhD student Nárlon Boa Sorte Silva wants to make sure every one of them stays active and engaged in life via exercise.

Taking a stand on staying mobile after 80

August 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—If you want to stay as fit as possible well into your 80s, the answer may be as simple as standing on your own two feet.

Older, fitter adults experience greater brain activity while learning

January 13, 2017
Older adults who experience good cardiac fitness may be also keeping their brains in good shape as well.

Use it or lose it: Study shows that stopping exercise decreases brain blood flow

August 29, 2016
We all know that we can quickly lose cardiovascular endurance if we stop exercising for a few weeks, but what impact does the cessation of exercise have on our brains? New research led by University of Maryland School of ...

Exercise study offers hope in fight against Alzheimer's

May 3, 2017
Could the initiation of a simple walking exercise program help older adults to reverse declines in key brain regions? A new study led by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers adds more information about ...

Recommended for you

Study reveals breakthrough in decoding brain function

September 25, 2017
If there's a final frontier in understanding the human body, it's definitely not the pinky. It's the brain.

Overturning widely held ideas: Visual attention drawn to meaning, not what stands out

September 25, 2017
Our visual attention is drawn to parts of a scene that have meaning, rather than to those that are salient or "stick out," according to new research from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis. ...

The rat race is over: New livestock model for stroke could speed discovery

September 25, 2017
It is well-known in the medical field that the pig brain shares certain physiological and anatomical similarities with the human brain. So similar are the two that researchers at the University of Georgia's Regenerative Bioscience ...

Touching helps build the sexual brain

September 21, 2017
Hormones or sexual experience? Which of these is crucial for the onset of puberty? It seems that when rats are touched on their genitals, their brain changes and puberty accelerates. In a new study publishing September 21 ...

Gene immunotherapy protects against multiple sclerosis in mice

September 21, 2017
A potent and long-lasting gene immunotherapy approach prevents and reverses symptoms of multiple sclerosis in mice, according to a study published September 21st in the journal Molecular Therapy. Multiple sclerosis is an ...

Neuron types in brain are defined by gene activity shaping their communication patterns

September 21, 2017
In a major step forward in research, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today publish in Cell a discovery about the molecular-genetic basis of neuronal cell types. Neurons are the basic building blocks that ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Dug
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2017
It's probably a stretch scientifically to say dancing reduces the symptoms of aging. It would be more accurate to say that physical exercise that requires the coordination of multiple forms of physical stimuli simultaneously is more effective than those forms of exercise that coordinate less forms of stimuli. Dancing is just one beneficial coordination form of exercise and it is rather limited in the number of muscle groups that it works, but if people consider it a source of amusement and fun - that in itself is an advantage, because they are more apt to engage in it and more frequently.
jwaal
not rated yet Aug 29, 2017
Limited number of muscle groups? Try Lindy Hop. :)
quantumtimeleap
5 / 5 (1) Sep 03, 2017
"Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68..." 68 is NOT "elderly."

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.