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Dance training: The ultimate way to delay brain decline by combining physical, cognitive, and social engagement

Study: Danc­ing may off­set some effects of aging in the brain (CSU release):

A new study led by a Col­orado State Uni­ver­si­ty researcher shows that kick­ing up your heels can actu­al­ly be good for your nog­gin.

The research team demon­strat­ed for the first time that decline in the brain’s “white mat­ter” can be detect­ed over a peri­od of only six months in healthy aging adults — faster than most stud­ies have shown. On the bright side, a group of test sub­jects who par­tic­i­pat­ed in dance class­es dur­ing that time actu­al­ly saw improved white mat­ter integri­ty in an area of the brain relat­ed to mem­o­ry and pro­cess­ing speed.

Old­er adults often ask how they can keep their brain healthy,” said lead researcher Aga Burzyn­s­ka. “Dance may end up being one way to do that for the white mat­ter.” Burzyn­s­ka, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor in CSU’s Depart­ment of Human Devel­op­ment and Fam­i­ly Stud­ies, and her fel­low researchers found that dance train­ing — per­haps because it incor­po­rates exer­cise, social inter­ac­tion and learn­ing — appeared to have a pos­i­tive effect…“Our brain does age, maybe faster than we pre­vi­ous­ly thought, but it seems that there are things we do that can mod­u­late it,” she said. “The lifestyle that peo­ple choose can pre­dict the decline.”

The Study

White Mat­ter Integri­ty Declined Over 6-Months, but Dance Inter­ven­tion Improved Integri­ty of the Fornix of Old­er Adults (Fron­tiers in Aging Neu­ro­science). From the abstract:

  • Degen­er­a­tion of cere­bral white mat­ter (WM), or struc­tur­al dis­con­nec­tion, is one of the major neur­al mech­a­nisms dri­ving age-relat­ed decline in cog­ni­tive func­tions, such as pro­cess­ing speed. Past cross-sec­tion­al stud­ies have demon­strat­ed ben­e­fi­cial effects of greater car­diores­pi­ra­to­ry fit­ness, phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, cog­ni­tive train­ing, social engage­ment, and nutri­tion on cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing and brain health in aging. Here, we col­lect­ed dif­fu­sion mag­net­ic res­o­nance (MRI) imag­ing data from 174 old­er (age 60–79) adults to study the effects of 6-months lifestyle inter­ven­tions on WM integri­ty. Healthy but low-active par­tic­i­pants were ran­dom­ized into Dance, Walk­ing, Walk­ing + Nutri­tion, and Active Con­trol (stretch­ing and ton­ing) inter­ven­tion groups…we observed a decline in WM integri­ty across the major­i­ty of brain regions in all par­tic­i­pants, regard­less of the inter­ven­tion group. This sug­gests that the aging of the brain is detectable on the scale of 6-months, which high­lights the urgency of find­ing effec­tive inter­ven­tions to slow down this process…Together, 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. This study empha­sizes the impor­tance of a phys­i­cal­ly active and social­ly engag­ing lifestyle among aging adults.

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