Finally, the news I’ve been waiting for: the only exercise I actually enjoy — dancing — is better for your brain than any other.
It’s not news that staying active is good for you, nor that dancing has loads of bennies. But it is news that, as Stanford dance instructor Richard Powers puts it, “dancing makes you smarter.” These findings are based on a blue-chip, 21-year study that looked at which recreational activities benefit the mind, measured against the onset of dementia (including Alzheimer’s). Board games topped the list, followed by reading and playing a musical instrument. Couch potatoes take note: almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. (Golf, 0%. Ditto for bicycling, my second favorite.) But dancing frequently reduced the risk by a whopping 76% — higher than any activity, mental or physical, studied by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers.
Note the adverb: frequently. Once every so often won’t do the trick, for any of these activities. Nor will rote repetition. The key is the split-second decision-making involved in leading or following or learning new steps or adjusting to changes in style or rhythm. “Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing connectivity [between neurons],” Powers explains. “Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes.” Admittedly, the partner-free, minimally skilled jumping around in a club that I love so much doesn’t exactly fill this bill, but I know it’s good for me. And I can always learn to line dance.