Recently I posted an article about how physical exercise can give you an immediate mood boost, as well as protect your brain long term from decline. We also know that balance is a key concern for seniors; a single fall can be the event that forces a senior to have to stop living independently in their home and move into assisted living. So wouldn’t it be great if there was form of exercise that could both protect your brain AND improve balance? Well, look no further!

Dr Kathrin Rehfeld of the Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany had volunteers (average age 68) divided into 2 groups. Each group participated in weekly exercise sessions, with one group focused on endurance and flexibility training (repetitive activities such as cycling and Nordic walking, and the other group focused on dancing. While both groups showed improvement in the hippocampus area of the brain (crucial for memory, learning and balance) over the 18-month study, only dancing lead to a significant “real world” improvement in balance.

Dr Rehfeld felt that the most likely reason for the difference was that only the dancing required participants to constantly learn new movements, and to have to recall those movements and patterns under time pressure and without any help from the instructor. This would more closely mirror the daily challenge of staying balanced in a large variety of settings that people encounter as they walk about.

True confessions–I grew up in a Mennonite community where, just like in the movie “Footloose”, dancing was strongly frowned upon. But given the apparent wonderful benefits, maybe it’s not too late for me to “break loose” and learn how to “bust a move”!