Researchers see potential role for dancing

The Benefits of Movements

by Bob Brown

I was recently reading an article written by Scott Edwards, Harvard Medical School Correspondent that really got my attention. Many of us have been aware for years that there are positive health benefits to dancing and movement, but this was an up-to-date version with a little different slant.

The header at the top of the article said “Researchers see potential role for dance in treating neurodegenerative disorders and recently began to investigate the complex mental coordination that dance requires.” The article went on to ask, “How many of those who ballroom dance, foxtrot, break dance, square dance, round dance or line dance realize that they are doing something positive for their brains?” Daniel Tarsy, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Center states that, “There’s no question that music has a very stimulating effect on physical activity and I think that applies to dance as well.”

Scientists gave little attention to the neurological effects of dance until recently, when researchers began to investigate the complex mental coordination that dance requires. In a 2008 article in “Scientific American”, a Columbia University neuroscientist said that synchronizing music and movement constitutes a “pleasure double play.” Music stimulates the brain’s reward centers, while dance activates its sensory and motor circuits.

A 2003 study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and reported in the “New England Journal of Medicine” showed that dance can improve brain health. The study investigated the effect leisure activities had on the risk of dementia in the elderly. The researchers looked at the impact of 11 different types of physical activity, including cycling, golf, swimming, and tennis, but found that only dancing lowered participants’ risk of dementia. The combination of mental effort and social interaction made the difference.

In a small 2012 study, researchers at North Dakota’s Minot State University found that the dance program known as Zumba improves mood and cognitive skills. Other studies have shown that dance helps reduce stress, increases the levels of the “feel-good hormone,” serotonin, and helps develop new neural connections, especially in the regions involved in executive function, long-term memory, and special recognition.

Dance has also been found to be therapeutic for patients with Parkinson’s disease. Dancing is a fabulous addition to a regular course of activity that can include briskly walking, swimming, Tai chi, and lots of other forms of exercise. Our dance (square dancing and round dancing) just has the added benefits of social interaction, mental processing into motor action, moving rhythmically to music, and just plain being fun.

So if you’re looking to add a long term benefit to your health regimen, think about square and/or round dancing. For more info call Bob at 447-0094 or Cindy at 631-8816.

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