Shake Your Booty! It's Good for You

Hitting the dance floor isn’t just fun — you might whirl your way to better balance and a better mind

Exercise can benefit an aging brain. It can improve cognition and delay dementia, increase attention and focus, and reduce depression, research suggests. But if you’d rather do the merengue than run a marathon, you have good reason to be excited, as dancing offers enormous benefits for your body and brain, from relieving stress to increasing social connections and reducing loneliness, notes a new report on music from AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH).

The type of dance you choose may be irrelevant. Line dancing may protect brain tissue, and ballroom dancing may improve spatial analysis (the part of the brain focused on navigation and remembering layouts), studies show. Latin dances, from the salsa to the merengue, may boost skills such as visual recognition and decision-making. And whether it’s the tango or the twist, dance can provide both mental and social stimulation, which may enhance memory.

Dancing may even reduce the risk of dementia, the GCBH report notes. What’s more, it can provide benefits that other forms of exercise don’t, such as improving balance. Unlike other workouts and stretching routines, dance involves constantly changing rhythms, speeds, steps and arm patterns. You’re not using the same repetitive motion, as with exercises like cycling, swimming and walking. In a recent 18-month study in Germany, one group of seniors did endurance exercises and another group danced. Both groups showed improvement in the brain’s hippocampus region — a key area for memory and cognition — but the dancers also improved their balance. —Amanda McCracken

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