Dancing Does More For Your Brain Than Just Make Memories

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Everyone has good memories that involve dancing. Maybe these memories involve tapping your feet to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” Maybe it is reminiscing about your first slow dance as a married couple. Or maybe you have some fond memories of doing the electric slide back in the day! Either way, I think we can all agree that music and dancing are often tied to memories. But what if dancing was also good for our memories? Well, it turns out that it is! Scientists agree that physical exercise, music, and especially dancing, are great for our brain. So, which one is better for your brain – freestyle dancing or choreographed routines? Let’s discuss.


Freestyle Dancing

Freestyle dancing is the type of dancing you might do when that random song comes on that you love. The kind of dancing where you just let go, feel the beat, and move in whatever way you want. For some people, that freestyle might mean doing some groovy disco moves. For others it might mean breaking it down on the dance floor and doing the running man. For those less coordinated individuals, it may mean just a simple side-to-side step and snapping of your fingers. No matter what your freestyle moves are, science agrees these moves are good for your brain! Probably the most encouraging of these studies was a 2003 longitudinal one published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study followed 469 older individuals for an average of 5.1 years. After examining their leisure time activities, researchers found that individuals who regularly participated in freestyle dancing were 76% less likely to develop dementia. The decrease in risk was higher for freestyle dance than for any other physical activity, including group exercise, walking, bicycling, and even swimming!

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Photo credit: bigstockphoto.com

Choreographed Dancing

Choreographed dancing is less about improvisation and more about memorization of specific steps or a routine. Think of ballet dance, ballroom dance, or even the type of dance seen in Broadway performances. Since choreographed dance involves a higher level of learning and memorization, scientists theorize that it engages different parts of the brain than improvisational or freestyle dance. In turn, studies have shown choreographed dance may have positive benefits in terms of age-related brain changes. Specifically, a 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience followed a 36 participants who participated in sports or dance. After a year and a half, magnetic resonance images or “MRIs” showed that individuals who participated in weekly dance classes showed positive benefits in parts of the brain critical for memory, learning and spatial navigation.


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So what does this all mean?

Scientists agree, dancing is good for your brain. Both freestyle dancing and choreographed routines have been shown to have positive health benefits. Whether you enjoy freestyle dancing or you prefer the structure of choreographed dance routines, the important thing is that you find a type of dance that you enjoy and will continue to do over time.  You can build great memories, have a good time, and benefit your brain health one dance at a time!