Neuro-WHAT???

    In my last post I introduced the principle of neuroplasticity as it appeared in an article in the Denver Post. The article reported a relationship between dancing and a decreased risk of dementia based on the principle of neuroplasticity.

    So, what is neuroplasticity and what does it mean to us? How can we apply it to our everyday lives? Neuroplasticity can actually help improve our mental capacity and physical ability. Neuroplasticity refers to the flexibility of our nervous system to learn new things and allow for change through out our entire lifetime. Our nervous system (which includes our brain) stays healthiest when it is constantly active. Our brains are continuing to make new connections based on our experiences. The term “use it or lose it” certainly applies!

    This may sound like a “no brainer” (please excuse the pun). However, it has only been fairly recent in the field of neuroscience have we discovered that neuroplasticity continues through our lifetime; previous belief had been that it stops at about age 14.

    Okay, so what is the practical application? How can we use this to help our brain stay active and healthy? Introducing new experiences in our lives can be as simple as taking a different route home from work, or going to a different grocery store. All of a sudden, a mundane activity becomes a little more interesting, awakens your awareness, and stimulates brain activity. To take it a few steps further, try a new physical activity that requires engaging your mind, such as dance, Pilates, yoga, tai chi or other martial art. Try new creative activities such as knitting, needlepoint or crochet. Study music, a foreign language, art or poetry. Varying your life’s experiences from the very simple to the more complex will help you keep your brain healthy and functioning at a high level.

To review the article from the Denver Post click on http://www.denverpost.com/fitness/ci_17759916

Be healthy!

Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

Dance into health, for your body and your brain!

I recently read a fascinating article citing the health benefits of dance, which included socialization and improved physical function. As a physical therapist and a classical dancer, that didn’t surprise me. The authors also reported that dance-based therapy can improve balance and gait among older adults. Again, no big surprise. However, the most amazing and fascinating correlation between dance and health was the strong link to a decrease in the development of dementia among people who danced. Wow!

According to the article, a study funded by the National Institute of Aging and published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed a significant reduction of dementia in older adults, up to an impressive 76%! Although other physical activities such as golf, tennis, swimming, bicycling, walking and doing housework were studied, dance was the only activity that had such a strong impact on the decreased risk of dementia.

The researchers hypothesized that the scientific principle of neuroplasticity was responsible for the relationship between dancing and the decreased risk of dementia. Neuroplasticity simply means that our nervous system is always capable of changing, learning new things, making new neural connections and even growing new neurons during the entire course of our lifetime. The combined effects of socialization, learning new dance steps, challenging balance, coordination and proprioception while also listening to music stimulates the brain and awakens the nervous system.

As a dancer, I found the article fascinating and the results compelling. However, as a physical therapist, I firmly believe that any form of physical activity is not only beneficial to our physical health, but also has a positive effect on our mental, emotional and psychological well-being, including our cognitive function. On the other hand, it might be time to sign up for that dance class you’ve always wanted to try. It’s never too late, you’re never too old, and you may be surprised how good it feels.

Do it not only for the health of your body and your brain, but for the love of dance as well!