Elderly people who take up line dancing could find that the pastime offers more than just a pleasant diversion from everyday life. Those who learn new moves are better protected from dementia than their counterparts that walk or cycle, new research shows.
Scientists at the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases tested a variety of forms of exercise and found that line dancing, jazz and square dancing were the best. They were proven to help fight the loss of brainpower more effectively than cycling or Nordic walking.
Some 62 individuals, with an average age of 68, took part in the tests, which included undergoing brain scans. These tests measured the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory, and saw how it changed over a period of 18 months.
One group of volunteers undertook traditional exercises for 90-minute stints that involved mainly repetitive movements. The other troupe had to learn a variety of steps and some choreography as part of their dancing.
It was this latter group that showed up as having larger hippocampuses, which is known to help protect against memory loss and dementia. Additional effort associated with the new techniques is thought to lead to reduced loss of brain volume, making dancing a good pastime for older people to enjoy.
Dr Kathrin Rehfeld from the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases and lead author of the study, said: “Everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”
Once a person hits 70, they lose one per cent of the volume of the memory centre in their brain each year. This contributes towards age-related memory loss, but can also mean that navigation is impaired and in some cases, it can lead to dementia.
Despite this, the hippocampus is actually able to regenerate, but it needs a kick-start to help it do so. This latest research suggests that line dancing could be just the boost it needs to help prevent decline in the first place.
Dr Louise Walker, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “This study does not show that dancing can prevent dementia but... it shows that physical activity is one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of the condition.”
A more complicated form of exercise could be even better, so it’s never too late to learn a new skill. The social side of such a habit could also be good for the elderly, many of whom complain about feeling lonely and out of touch with society. Music is a great way to relive one’s youth and bring memories flooding back.
Dementia is a broad term that is used to describe a number of brain disorders that result in memory loss, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. It is thought that some 850,000 people in the UK are affected by dementia, with the number set to rise to more than one million by 2025 and two million by 2051.