Dance Your Brain

“dancing makes us smarter. do it frequently and it may give you 76% protection against dementia”

*Reproduced here with permission

There’s a fever sweeping across Canada. In school gyms, community halls and church basements senior men and women are gathering in droves.  Fear not, this is a Peggy Lee kind of fever rather than a health hazard, proved to be the best secret weapon against dementia.

As you’ve probably heard, the G8 nations sent their health ministers to discuss what is being called “the worldwide dementia epidemic” to their meeting in London, last month. According to Paul Waldie, reporting on the conference in the Globe and Mail (December 11th, 2013), participants discovered “how little progress has been made” to find a cure, pledging to find one by 2025.

Something like 747,000 Canadians suffer from the various forms of dementia – Alzheimer’s the most common. In B.C. over 70,000 individuals live with some form of dementia, 10,000 of them under the age of 65. The Alzheimer Society of Canada defines dementia as a progressive degenerative brain disease whose warning signs include:
memory loss affecting day-to-day function; difficulty performing familiar tasks; problems with language; disorientation for time and place; poor or decreased judgment; misplacing things; changes in mood or behaviour; changes in personality; loss of initiative. It is incurable and always fatal, robbing the sufferer of her or his memory
and destroying brain cells, so the body forgets to how to survive.

The good news is that there are things you can do that may delay or prevent the disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by 50%. It boosts your mood, improves memory, reduces stress and increases energy. A
21-year study of senior citizens over age 75, conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, came up with a surprise result: dancing makes us smarter. Do it frequently and it may give you 76% protection against dementia.

Play golf, cycle or swim and although the exercise is good, you will not be protected one jot against dementia. Reading comes in at 35%, while doing at least four crossword puzzles a week protects you 47%.

Dancing reduces stress and depression; increases energy and serotonin (a hormone in the body responsible for regulating moods); improves flexibility, strength, balance and endurance; increases mental capacity by exercising thinking and learning processes; and creates new pathways in the brain through high octane fast decision making. In other words, dancing integrates several brain functions simultaneously, further increasing your neural connectivity.

Dr. Joseph Coyle, the Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who wrote the commentary on the study, is of the opinion that “The cerebral cortex and hippocampus, which are critical to [dancing, reading and crossword puzzles] are remarkably plastic and they rewrite themselves based on their use.” In lay terms, “use it or lose it”. Our brain constantly rewires its neural pathways, as needed. If it doesn’t need to, then it won’t. The hippocampus, by the way, is the part of the brain involved in memory forming, organizing and storing. The job of the cerebral cortex is information processing and language.

Is one kind of dance better than another? Richard Powers at Stanford University says all dancing is good. “But if intelligence is what we use when we don’t already know what to do, and we want to stimulate the connectivity of our brains by generating as many new paths as possible, don’t do anything by rote.” Learn something new. Challenge yourself.

Foxtrot anyone?