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!