While disco moves may not be as in style today as they were in the 70s, if you put on your boogie shoes more than four decades ago, you were likely on to something that could benefit your brain today. New research suggests that the Bee Gees were right – you should be dancing.

A recent study followed adults aged 65 and older for 18 months. About half were asked to attend weekly dance classes where they learned choreographed steps, and the other half did regular exercises in a gym. They received MRI scans of their brains at the beginning of the study, at six months and then again at the end of the 18 month period.

The results showed actual changes in the makeup of each participant’s brain, and for the dancers, more benefits than regular exercise alone.

4 Ways Dancing Can Improve the Aging Process

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” Kathrin Rehfeld, the leader author of the study, said. “We show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance."

Research has regularly confirmed why the dancers saw more benefits. Four major reasons are:

  1. Connecting mental activities, such as remembering dance moves, to physical activities, like dancing, result in memory improvement and strengthened nerve communication.
  2. When the body becomes more used to doing spins, turns and quick steps, the brain and inner ear become trained to deal with quick changes and sharp movements – which improves coordination, balance and fall risk.
  3. The music that accompanies dancing like that in this study certainly stimulates brain activity, and slows cognitive decline, per several Parkinson’s studies.
  4. Perhaps best of all, dancing provides exercise that’s good for participant’s heart, lungs, muscles and joints, and dancing typically makes those “putting their hands in the air like the just don’t care” happy.

Rehfeld recommends physical activity – especially dance – for all of us with aging brains who share the same aspirations living like the Bee Gees and “stayin’ alive.”

"I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline,” Rehfeld said. “I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age."

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The main key of any exercise routine is that it fits your needs over time so you stay active. What is the best way you've found to maintain activity? Let us know in the comments below.  

By Mike Ogburn