BY SARAH OWENS
Dance may be an especially good form of exercise for brain health, according to a small study published on June 15 in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Hip Hop and the Hippocampus
Any aerobic exercise such as dancing enhances heart health. But dancing also helps fine-tune motor skills. It also strengthens the vestibular system, which relates to balance, and improves visuospatial skills and the ability to sense where your limbs are in space.
As it turns out, many of these skills are associated with the hippocampus, a part of the brain that helps govern memory and emotion. And larger hippocampal volume indicates better brain health.
Measuring the Effects of Dance
To see if dance affects hippocampal volume, researchers at the University of Magdeburg in Magdeburg, Germany, enrolled 52 healthy older adults between the ages of 63 and 80. At the beginning of the study, all participants underwent MRI brains scans. Then they were randomly assigned to participate either in a six-month program of experimental, choreographed dance or fitness classes that did not include dance.
Classes met for 90 minutes, twice a week, for six months. In the dance class, participants had to memorize different moves that included body turns, head spins, arm moves, skips and hops as well as particular dances such as the chassée, mambo, cha cha, grapevine, and jazz square.
In the fitness class, participants engaged in exercises designed to build endurance, strength, and flexibility, including bicycle riding and walking on a treadmill. They did no coordinated arm and leg exercises.
Dance Boosts Hippocampal Volume
At the end of the six months, participants underwent another MRI scan to assess their hippocampal volumes. They also took two tests, the Somatosensory Organization Test (SOT), which measures improvement in somatosensory ability, and the Balance Master System test, which measures visual and balance skills.
Both groups showed increases in hippocampal volume, but the dance group had a significantly greater increase in the right hippocampus. Both groups also improved their somatosensory and balance skills, but only the dancers improved their visual skills.
The findings, the study authors say, suggest that dancing increases hippocampal volume more than normal exercise, and that increase in volume is associated with improvements in balance, somatosensory skills, and visual skills.
So if you're looking to take up a new form of exercise to improve your brain health, consider a dance class.
For more on how exercise benefits different neurologic conditions, read our collection of stories on the topic at bit.ly/NN-Exercise.