By Jennifer Dorozio for Dementia Connections, May 4, 2021
Dancing can keep your brain healthy longer
People are inspired to dance for all kinds of reasons. A person may shimmy their hips in a moment of spontaneous joy or have a regular partner they dance with socially— but what about dancing for brain health? Research suggests that dancing is not only good for your brain, it can also keep your mind healthier, for longer. Dance can potentially strengthen brain connectivity and even increase the size and health of certain parts of the brain typically affected by dementia.
Dr. Patricia Hewston is a Labarge Post-Doctoral Fellow for Mobility in Aging at the GERAS Centre for Aging Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. She studies ways to keep older adults healthy as they age. Recently, she conducted research to better understand the existing research on dance and brain health. Hewston and her team conducted a systematic review of nearly 4,000 records on dance and brain health. They found 11 different studies from several countries examining the effect of dance on brain changes in older adults.
“We found that dance helps the overall cognitive function,” says Hewston. “And specifically, the executive functions.” That’s the part of the brain that makes decisions and helps with planning tasks.
Published in December 2020, the review also acknowledges that dancing — including learning choreography, following the beat and executing new movement patterns — may increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with learning and memory that shrinks as we age. Dance also strengthens the connectivity between both cerebral hemispheres, resulting in neural activation in motor, somatosensory and cognitive brain areas.