The researchers examined two different fitness routines – dancing and endurance training and found that while both had an anti-ageing effect on the brains of the elderly, dancing had the most profound effect.
According to the study’s lead author Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, “Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity.
“In this study, 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 led to noticeable behavioural changes in terms of improved balance.”
The researchers recruited elderly volunteers with an average age of 68. They were assigned either an 18-month weekly course of learning dance routines, or endurance and flexibility training.
The traditional fitness training programme mainly comprised repetitive exercises, such as cycling or Nordic walking, but the dance group was challenged with something new each week.
Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain, the area that is vulnerable to age-related decline and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The hippocampus also plays a key role in learning and memory as well as the ability to balance.