Use It or Lose It:Dancing Makes You Smarter
For hundreds of years dance manuals and other writings have lauded the health benefits of dancing, usually as physical exercise. More recently we've seen research on further health benefits of dancing, such as stress reduction and increased serotonin level, with its sense of well-being.
Then most recently we've heard of another benefit: Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter. A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one's mind can ward off Alzheimer's disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit.
You've probably heard about the New England Journal of Medicine report on the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in aging.
Here it is in a nutshell.
The 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial effect. Other activities had none.
They studied cognitive activities such as reading books, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards and playing musical instruments. And they studied physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework.
One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind. There was one important exception: the only physical
activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.
Reduced risk of dementia
Dancing frequently - 76%.
That was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.
Our brain constantly rewires its neural pathways, as needed. If it doesn't need to, then it won't.
The essence of intelligence is making decisions. And the concluding advice, when it comes to improving your mental acuity, is to involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your physical style.
One way to do that is to learn something new. Not just dancing, but anything new. Don't worry about the probability that you'll never use it in the future. Take a class to challenge your mind. It will stimulate the connectivity of your brain by generating the need for new pathways. Difficult and even frustrating classes are better for you, as they will create a greater need for new neural pathways.
Then take a dance class, which can be even better. Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing connectivity. Dancing simultaneously involves kinaesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes.
What kind of dancing
Take the kinds of dance classes where you must make as many split-second decisions as possible. That's key to
maintaining true intelligence.
The more decision making we bring into our dancing the better
Dance as much as you can. More is better.
And do it now, the sooner the better. It's essential to start building your cognitive reserve now. Some day you'll need as many of those stepping stones across the creek as possible. Don't wait -- start building them now.