Given the Jazzercise and Zumba crazes that’ve swept the nation over the years, it’s no surprise that dancing is a great way to get your blood pumping. It’s fun, and there’s plenty of variety from routine to routine. On top of that, research has long shown that dancing can be a great way to shed pounds; in fact, one study from Harvard found that dancing was better for burning calories than swimming or jogging for the same period of time.
However, a lot of scientific work looking at exercise’s impacts on the body have focused on younger people. Now, there’s additional research showing that dancing can completely revitalize our brains as we get older and reverse signs of aging, too.
What does new research show?
A new study from Rutgers University published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory looked at how dancing regularly can change brain activity in older people. Thirty-four participants, all over the age of 60, were split into two groups: The first led a sedentary lifestyle over the course of the 20-week study, while the other group took part in two 60-minute aerobic dance classes every week during that same five-month period. All participants received cognitive tests during the experiment, while a smaller group received regular brain scans as well.
There were two important takeaways from the study. First and foremost, people who took part in regular dance workouts had completely different brain chemistry — which resembled more youthful brain activity — than the sedentary group. Second, they performed better on their cognitive tests as a group, and individuals who danced also scored better on those tests at the end of the experiment than they did at the beginning.
Why does dancing help with brain health?
Scientists say that the temporal lobe in particular, which is responsible for speech, thought, and memory, was positively impacted by participants’ regular dance schedule. While they’re still looking into the phenomenon, they believe the brain created new neural connections by the end of the study, meaning that the brain is actually resisting damage that often appears as we age and building new ways to communicate with itself and with other parts of the body.
Overall, the study highlights the fact that you don’t have to do an intense workout every single day to improve your memory or keep your brain healthy. Even just a fun at-home Zumba class or two during the week can make a big difference to both your waistline and your mind.