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Dance Away the Wrinkles!

As we age, our mental and physical abilities tend to deteriorate, which can be exacerbated by conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, a recent study published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience open-access journal reveals that older individuals who engage in regular physical exercise can actually reverse the aging process in the brain, with dancing being found to have the strongest impact.

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

Can You Really Dance Away the Wrinkles?

In the study, volunteers aged 68 on average were recruited and divided into two groups. One group was given an 18-month program of weekly dance routine lessons, while the other group underwent endurance and flexibility training. The results showed that both groups experienced an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is significant because this area is prone to aging-related decline and can be affected by diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and it also plays a crucial role in memory, learning, and maintaining balance.

Prior research has demonstrated that physical exercise can help counter brain decline associated with aging. However, it was unclear if one type of exercise might be superior to others. To address this question, the researchers designed the exercise programs given to the volunteers differently. The traditional fitness training consisted mainly of repetitive exercises such as cycling or Nordic walking, while the dance group was challenged with new routines 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.”

dance away the wrinkles!

The addition of these new challenges is believed to be the reason for the noticeable improvement in balance seen among participants in the dance group. Building on these findings, Dr. Rehfeld and her team are exploring new fitness programs with the goal of maximizing the 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 physical activity. 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 provides concluding advice that may inspire us to get up and dance to our favorite music to reverse aging and reduce wrinkles.

“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 dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”

This study forms part of a larger body of research exploring the cognitive and neural effects of physical and mental activity throughout the lifespan.