TBH Science Update April 2017 | You Should Be Dancing! Study Shows Groovy Moves May Be Best For Our Brains

WHAT: A recent study compared the effects of dancing, walking and walking combined with a nutritional intervention to an active control intervention (stretching and toning) on white matter integrity (WMI). The subjects were 174 healthy older adults ages 60-79 who reported previous levels of low physical activity. Researchers found that subjects in the Dance intervention showed significant levels of increased WMI in the fornix, a pathway area of the brain associated with the hippocampus, a key location for learning and memory. Interestingly the researchers also found that all subjects demonstrated decline in WMI across all major brain regions, regardless of intervention group, over the 6 months of the study. They conclude that a proactive program that combines physical, cognitive and social engagement may be a “best bet” for maintaining or improving white matter integrity across the aging process.

WHY IT MATTERS: WMI is a reliable marker of aging in the brain, and lifestyle interventions that promote maintained or improved WMI may be a key ingredient in protecting against cognitive decline and dementia. The researchers expressed concerned by the rate of decline seen in these subjects, regardless of what intervention they participated in, over the 6 months of this study. However the Dance intervention, which offers a more challenging complex ideomotor “workout” for the body and the brain, showed promise in maintaining WMI, leaving them to conclude that “our findings suggest that combining physical, cognitive and social engagement (dance) may help maintain or improve WM health and more physically active lifestyle is associated with slower WM decline.”

THE TAKEAWAY: Dancing is just one way to “up” the ante and offer workouts that not only challenge the body but engage the mind and offer social opportunities. This study confirms the added value of such complex ideo-motor activities over simple motor workouts such as walking, as well as the boost of social-based training for better brain health.

Burzynska AZ, Jiao Y, Knecht AM, Fanning J, Awick EA, Chen T, Gothe N, Voss MW, McAuley E and Kramer AF (2017) White Matter Integrity Declined Over 6 Months, but Dance Intervention Improved Integrity of the Fornix of Older Adults. Front. Aging Neurosci. 9:59. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2017.00059