Most of us are well-aware of the benefits of dancing, although the majority of those benefits are related to physical fitness or overall well-being. Did you know that dancing makes you smarter, too?
Dancing Increases Cognitive Acuity
The Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NYC conducted a 21-year study on senior citizens who were 75 and older. The purpose of the study was to test the effects that certain recreational activities have on mental acuity in aging. While doing this, they discovered that some of the activities did have a pretty significant positive impact, while some others had no impact at all.
There was one important exception: the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.
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Reading – 35% reduced risk of dementia
Bicycling and swimming – 0%
Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week – 47%
Playing golf – 0%
Dancing frequently – 76%. That was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.
How Does Dancing Help The Brain?
The neural pathways in our brain are constantly being renewed on demand, meaning that if it doesn’t need to, then it won’t renew more pathways.
A neural pathway that serves to connect relatively distant areas of the brain or nervous system is a bundle of neurons, known collectively as white matter.
As we grow older, our brain cells die and neural synapses weaken. A neural pathway would be almost like the bridge that allows you to get to specific information in your brain, like names of people.
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If that neural connection fades away, we lose access to that information. The trick to avoiding that is to constantly create new neural pathways so that our brain has more than one route to get there.
If we exercise our cognitive processes, we increase our mental capacity.
In order to improve mental acuity, we should, ideally, get involved in activities that require us to make quick, split-second, intelligent decisions. We go about our activities through two routes. The first is by habit, and the second is by intelligence, meaning that we make conscious, thought-out decisions.
Intelligence is what we use when we don’t already know what to do.
Learning something new helps with this process – not just dancing, but any new activity. However, what seems to make dancing more beneficial is that it integrates several brain functions at the same time: emotional, musical, kinesthetic, and rational. Take a dance class and challenge your brain. The harder the dance, the better. That way you’re creating a need for new neural pathways and improving your cognitive health.