Dancing's a big step toward avoiding dementia
Want to avoid your risk of dementia holistically? Besides controlling your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars, and decreasing your intake of inflammatory foods, what else can you do?
Dancing has been shown to have numerous health benefits in various studies. The most obvious are increased socialization and improved physical functioning. Two recent studies conducted by University of Missouri researchers found that participation in dance-based therapy can improve balance and gait in older adults. This can reduce the risk of falls and injuries in this population.
Studies also have shown a strong link to a decrease in the development of dementia among participants who danced. A study funded by the National Institute of Aging and published in 2003 in the New England Journal of Medicine showed a significantly reduced risk of dementia in older adults who danced frequently.
The study looked at almost 500 people ages 75 and older, tracking their activities and incidence of dementia over five years. It showed a surprisingly strong correlation between dancing and reduction in dementia — a whopping 76 percent.
Dancing also was the only physical activity that reduced dementia. There was, for example, no reduction in the development of dementia among those who golfed frequently.
Other physical activities studied included playing tennis, swimming, bicycling, walking for exercise and doing housework.
Some mental activities that reduced the risk of dementia were reading and doing crossword puzzles.
Why does dancing help maintain the brain? The principle of neuroplasticity hypothesizes that we continue to rewires synapses in the brain with continuous activity.
This is literally a "use it or lose it" phenomenon.
When we are dancing, we are using our cerebral cortex and hippocampus, which are critical to dancing. These areas of the brain are remarkably plastic, and they rewire themselves based upon their use. Researchers hypothesize that perhaps this greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses keep dementia at bay.