New Study Links Ballroom Dancing to Brain Health

Reuters Health recently published new study results that confirm a direct link between ballroom dancing and the deceleration of decay in white brain matter.

Degeneration of white matter in the brain is one of the main causes of deterioration in cognitive function that occurs with age, such as the ability to quickly put together thoughts. Previous studies have linked physical exercise to vigorous cognitive functioning and overall brain health, but the new study sought to determine which exercise provides the most benefit.

The researchers recruited healthy participants aged 60-79 who were not regular exercisers. The participants were divided into groups, with each group engaging in a different activity: fast walking, fast walking while maintaining a balanced diet, stretching and balance, and dancing. The dancers met three times a week for an hour-long session during which they learned line dances of increasing levels of difficulty, including changing places and partners.

After six months, the brains of the participants were examined by MRI and compared to the baseline measurements recorded at the beginning of the study. While there was mild degeneration of white matter among all of the study participants, the dance group showed improvement in fornix activity. The fornix is a bundle of nerve fiber in the brain that is associated with memory and processing speed. Therefore, the researchers concluded that the cognitive effort required for learning ballroom dancing is beneficial to the brain.

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A Healthy Brain in the Dancing Body

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Can dance lessons protect our brains from the effects of aging? For some time, scientists have known that the white matter which connects the different parts of the brain becomes damaged and diminishes as we get older. The ability of the brain to quickly process data tends to slow down significantly with age. But are these changes irreversible?

A new study examined the neurological effects of learning line dancing, compared to other forms of physical activity, such as walking. The study confirmed that ballroom dancing is more effective in slowing down brain degeneration.

The researchers examined the brains and cognitive state of 174 healthy adults, aged 60-79 who did not exercise regularly. Study participants were divided into groups: walking, walking combined with a nutritional regiment, stretching and balance, and dancing. Participants engaged in their assigned activities for one hour, three times a week for half a year.

Dancing Is Better

The participants in the dance group learned increasingly complex choreographies of line dances, which included frequent exchanges of partners and locations. After six months, the researchers examined the study participants again and found that those who learned to dance showed improvement in the area of the brain associated with memory and processing speed.
It appears, therefore, that exercise and particularly social dance which involves many different cognitive functions can help maintain a healthy brain.

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