Balance disturbances and cognitive impairment are linked with age-related brain structure deterioration and diseases. In a recent study published by the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal, the positive effects of dancing on reversing the signs of aging were explored. Aerobic fitness has been shown to increase volume in the hippocampus, although no specific type of exercise was better than the rest. It was hypothesized that by dancing, seniors could potentially improve their balance as well as their brain structure.
The hippocampus is affected by aging as well as diseases related to memory loss, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The hippocampus and other parts of the brain can create new neurons, however, which help counter the effect of aging on the brain. Researchers have found that fitness increases hippocampal activity, which in turn contributes to better memory functions. These findings show that the hippocampus is not only important for long-term memory, learning and spatial navigation, but also for balance. There is a positive correlation between hippocampus volumes and balance.
The investigation compared the effects of both dancing intervention and typical fitness training on the hippocampus volumes and balance abilities of participants. In the study, two groups participated in training over the course of 18 months. One group was in a specialized dance course where they learned choreography constantly, and the second group was in an endurance training course where they did repetitive actions. The dancing group participated in constantly changing choreography and dance routines of all different genres, while the classic fitness group participated in exercises such as Nordic walking and cycling. At the end, the hippocampal volume and balancing abilities were measured.
Although both groups had improvements in the volume of their left hippocampi, many who danced had volume increases in their left dentate gyrus, or the region that forms memories of autobiographical events. This was also the case with their subiculum, a part of the temporal lobe that plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease. There was also an increase in gray matter for the dancers, in addition to the amount already attributed to physical activity alone. They also showed volume increases in four out of five subfields of their left hippocampus and one in their right hippocampus. The observed improvements cannot fully be attributed to the hippocampus, however, because there was no correlation between the hippocampus volume and balancing. Additionally, while participants in the classical fitness group did not improve their visual systems, they did improve their use of their somatosensory and vestibular systems.
In total, what was gathered from this study is that both dancing and classic fitness induce hippocampal plasticity of the brain. Dancing, however, also causes increased balance composite scores and improvements in all three involved sensory systems, showing that it can help fight the age-related degeneration of physical and mental abilities.