Berlin: Dancing may reverse the signs of ageing in the brains of older people who routinely partake in physical exercise, a study has claimed.
"Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity," said Kathrin Rehfeld from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany.
"We show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioural changes in terms of improved balance," said Rehfeld.
Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were recruited to the study and assigned either an eighteen-month weekly course of learning dance routines, or endurance and flexibility training.
Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is important because this area can be prone to age-related decline and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer's. It also plays a key role in memory and learning, as well as keeping one's balance, researchers said.
While previous research has shown that physical exercise can combat age-related brain decline, it is not known if one type of exercise can be better than another.
To assess this, the exercise routines given to the volunteers differed.
The traditional fitness training programme conducted mainly repetitive exercises, such as cycling or Nordic walking, but the dance group were challenged with something new each week.
"We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance)," said Rehfeld, lead author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
"Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor," she said.
These extra challenges are thought to account for the noticeable difference in balance displayed by those participants in dancing group.