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Want to stay young? Go dancing

A recent study found that a dance exercise program for older adults (63-80 years) was better at preventing age-related brain decline than a more traditional exercise program.  

As we age, we lose muscle tone at a rate of 10 percent for every 10 years after the age of 40. In addition, our brains can slow down with aging, too. Processing ideas and thoughts can slow, our attention span is lower and our memory can decline.  

It has long been known that exercise can help keep us young, both physically and cognitively. We can combat loss of muscle tone with strength training exercises, such as weights or resistance bands. Aerobic exercise—walking, running, cycling—can help keep our heart and lungs strong. And we can exercise our brains by learning new things.  

The dance study researchers believe that this "learning new things" component made the difference between a dance exercise program and other forms of exercise. They suggest that the process of learning new dance steps combined with memory (remembering the dance steps) and the dancing seems to stimulate the brain, especially the hippocampus, more so than a well-known routine workout. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that helps with learning, memory and balance, which can all be affected by aging. By doing the same routine every time you work out, you don't stimulate your brain even though you are reaping the physical benefits. There's some truth to the old adage, "use it or lose it." And this is true for both muscle and brain.

Check out your local community education program to find a dance class near you. It's a good way to stay active, both physically and socially, and now we know it also exercises your brain. Your health and wellness program should include eating well, physical exercise for your body and mental exercise for your brain. This will help ensure whole person health, including physical, cognitive, emotional and social health.


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