How dancing can help keep your brain young

Tap your feet to the beat to stay younger for longer.
(pic copyright: Nataliya Gvozdeva)

Any form of exercise can help stop the brain declining with age. Yet a new study shows that dancing beats other forms of fitness activities for its impact on slowing down the process of brain ageing. Varying the kind of dancing you do – especially if learning new, complicated routines – can enhance that impact.

The research, published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience Journal, asked two groups of elderly volunteers (average age 68) to engage in dancing or in endurance and flexibility training over a period of 18 months. The aim was to observe how these activities would affect the area of the brain that declines with age – the hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory, learning and balance, and can be affected by dementia. The endurance training volunteers repeated the same exercises each week, while the dancers had a new routine to learn.

Lead author of the study Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, based at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, said that the dancers were given routines from dance genres such as Jazz, Latin and Line dancing, and they had to remember their routines without being prompted or helped by their teachers. This extra challenge – remembering, not just working out – showed a greater degree of improvement in balance among the dancers than among the volunteers on fitness programme.

The researchers concluded: “Only the dancers achieved a significant increase in the balance composite score. Hence, dancing constitutes a promising candidate in counteracting the age-related decline in physical and mental abilities.” Not to mention the mood-boosting qualities of being swept across a dance floor in tune with your favourite beat.

Pick puzzles over vitamins to preserve your memory

anima crosswordExercises like sudoku and crossword puzzles are more effective than herbal supplements and vitamins to keep your memory in good shape, say experts.

St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, sifted through published research to analyse the most effective ways to keep the brain active and prevent cognitive decline in healthy older adults. They found no strong evidence to show that prescribed medication or vitamins such as B6 or omega-3 fatty acids could improve memory, thought or judgement. Instead, they found that mental exercises such as crossword puzzles, and even computerised brain-training programmes, could have more effect in preventing cognitive decline.

With the number of people in the UK with Alzheimer’s expected to soar to more than a million by 2021, we can expect to see more of this type of survey advising on the best way to keep your memory in tip-top shape. Other research out recently suggests that listening to sounds while you sleep can help your memory. While smelling rosemary oil can help you recall events from your past and remember to do things in future.

“Use it or lose it”: be curious and active to keep dementia at bay, say scientists

anima dementia active lifestyle

Neuroscientists recommend a socially and physically active lifestyle to delay the onset of dementia. (pic:

Be socially active, be curious about life and other people, and keep your body fit if you want to delay the onset of dementia. That’s the advice from neuro-scientists who’ve studied what keeps the mind and memory functioning and alive.

A study shows that exposure to new activities, and seeking out rich and stimulating environments, can delay the formation of a particular protein in the brain that stops the cells communicating with each other, and can erode the person’s ability to learn, remember and pay attention. Scientists from the Center for Neurologic Diseases in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Neurology say that “prolonged exposure to a richer, more novel environment, even in middle age” can protect the hippocampus, the part of the brain susceptible to the effects of that protein – thus helping to preserve short- and long-term memory.

This piece of research says social and stimulating activity is more effective than aerobic exercise. However, a separate study from King’s College London says there is link between lifelong exercise and cognitive wellbeing.

The researchers interviewed 9,000 people over the years as they grew from age 11 to age 50. The study found that people who exercised every week performed better when tested on memory, learning, attention and reasoning at the age of 50 than people who exercised a couple of times a month or less. Fit men lost a third less of their brainpower, while fit women lost 25% less of their brainpower.

Report author Dr Alex Dregan says that while 150 minutes’ exercise per week is recommended, some activity rather than no exercise at all could benefit cognitive wellbeing, adding: “It’s widely acknowledged that a healthy body equals a healthy mind.”

While individuals can do their bit to stay healthy, experts are calling for more funding for research into causes and cures for dementia. The statistics about dementia are stark. One in three people over the age of 65 is likely to get Alzheimer’s, which is now the 10th leading cause of death in the UK, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.