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Give Dance a Whirl

Besides the cardio workout, research shows that dancing may help boost balance, coordination and cognitive function


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The distance from your feet to your brain may seem a long way, but it's one that's easily bridged for those who just get up and dance.

Besides giving you a great cardio boost, dance improves balance, coordination and flexibility. It's also a weight-bearing exercise, like jogging, walking, skiing, climbing stairs or skipping rope. These impact-producing activities all help you build bones and slow bone loss, especially in the legs, hips and lower spine. Ballroom dances (think waltz, tango, foxtrot, salsa, cha-cha and swing) also work all the major muscle groups and build stamina.

 A small study (just 38 participants) published in the December 2011 issue of the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine focused on adults with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of cardiovascular risk factors that is also associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment. The study found that older adults with metabolic syndrome who met twice weekly for six months to dance the cha-cha improved their memory and cognitive performance on a variety of tests, while there were no signs of improvement among those in the control group who didn't take part in the dancing.

And a June 2005 study by researchers at McGill University in Montreal compared two groups of older adults: One group danced the tango twice a week, the other simply walked. After 10 weeks, both groups did better on several cognitive tests. But the dancers outperformed the walkers on multitasking tests and saw additional gains in their coordination and balance.

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