Dancing on the Brain

Dancing on the Brain

Our brains are truly remarkable and so vital to everything we do – including learning. It is important that we do all we can to maintain its health and keep it operating at peak performance. With so much information coming out about the brain, there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by without some new information about how to do this. Of course, there are the things we have known for a while now – the importance of good nutrition, sleep and stimulation are some of them.
However, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that looked into the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity produced some new data that I think is of great interest to those of us working in the teaching and learning field. The study was conducted over 21 years focusing specifically on adults 75 years and older to see if any particular physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced their mental acuity. They considered a range of cognitive activities including:
• Reading books
• Writing for pleasure
• Doing crossword puzzles
• Playing cards and
• Playing musical instruments
and the following physical activities:
• Playing tennis
• Playing golf
• Swimming
• Cycling
• Dancing
• Walking
• Doing housework

One of the big surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia, with one important exception – dancing! Yes – dancing on a regular basis came in with a 76% reduction in risk of dementia – the greatest of any activity. The other areas that scored well were doing crossword puzzles – 47%  (at least 4 days each week) and Reading – 35%.
As a teacher, I have long held a belief and seen evidence in my own classes of the benefits of including the Arts in education settings, but it is great to see proof. Another study published in Scientific American magazine in 2008 suggested that dance – or music with movement is a “pleasure double play” for the brain with music stimulating connections across nearly every region of the brain including centres involved in emotion, reward, cognition and sensation, while dance activates the sensory and motor circuits through the complex mental coordination that it requires. Neurologist Dr. Robert Katzman from the original study proposed that the benefit seen from dancing was as a result of the brain having greater cognitive reserves and increased complexity of neuronal synapses.
We all know that the brain really benefits from the unique and unusual to develop new neuronal networks and I know many teachers and trainers who regularly use music in their training to stimulate the brain but have you considered movement? Maybe next time you conduct a training we should all dance???

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