Dancing & Cognition

By Susan E. Sklar, M.D.
Little did I know when I sent out my blog last week about taking a hip hop class for fun that there actually is scientific evidence about the value of dance in preventing cognitive decline. There’s an excellent article that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 that studied a large group of older adults over 75 years of age who were engaged in a whole variety of leisure time activity, everything from things that mainly use your brain such as reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles and being in discussion groups as well as more physical activities like tennis, golf, gardening, and dancing.
Couple dancing
And when they looked at the literature and they studied these people for 21 years to see what the incidence of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia was, which is dementia caused by blocked blood vessels, they found out the following things. If you’re a regular reader, your incidence of dementia is decreased by 35%. If you are a crossword puzzle doer, especially if you do crossword puzzles more than 4 times a week (you need to do these things frequently) your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia was reduced by 47%.

But what really took the prize was dance. If you dance on a regular basis, you can reduce your risk of dementia by as much as 76%! It needs to be dance that’s spontaneous and innovative. If you use the same memorized routines and memorized steps, which then engage the same old neural pathways in your brain, it is less effective in preventing cognitive decline. So you want to be in a class where you are innovating, taking rapid cues, and learning on the spot. This type of dance ends up being very effective because it integrates a whole lot of different activities: physical, cognitive (meaning you’ve got to use your brain), emotional, and musical.

So you can really impact your risk of cognitive decline in the future by the leisure time activities that you are engaged in. I say, get out your dancing shoes.

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