This is an old study completed in 2001 and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, but one that covered 21 years, a significant period of time. The study, done at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, measured the mental acuity in aging by observing rates of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, of 469 seniors 75 and older. The focus of the study was to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity. Dancing was the most beneficial.

The cognitive activities included:

  • Reading books
  • Writing for pleasure
  • Doing crossword puzzles
  • Playing board games or cards
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Participating in organized group discussions

Physical activities included:

  • Playing tennis or golf
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Dancing
  • Walking for exercise
  • Doing housework
  • Participating in group exercises

Today, almost everything you read suggests that physical activity plays an important role in maintaining your brain as well as your heart. In this study, however, almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. This study specifically looked at whether or not there were ways to reduce the risk of dementia and the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing!

Here are some of the results:

Dancing frequently – 76% – the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.
Doing crossword puzzles at least four days per week – 47%
Reading – 35%
Bicycling and swimming – 0% reduced risk
Playing golf – 0%

The researchers believe that the dancers are more resistant to the effects of dementia as a result of having greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses. Like education, participation in some leisure activities lowers the risk of dementia by improving cognitive reserve. They also said we need to keep as many of those paths active as we can while also generating new paths to maintain the complexity of our neuronal synapses.

More recently, Science Daily reported in 2010 that two recent studies conducted by University of Missouri researchers found that participation in dance-based therapy can improve balance and gait in older adults. Improved functionality among seniors can decrease their risk of falling and reduce costly injuries.

I love line dancing and I attend classes when my schedule permits. This video is a link to one of the sessions and as you can see, not everyone learns at the same pace, but everyone has a lot of fun. Eventually,we all get it. The short Asian woman in green in the back row is 80 years old. What an inspiration. Now that I know the huge benefit of dancing, I will definitely want to continue.

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