For some, dancing is a fun, effective means of physical fitness. For others, it is much more. Recent studies show that frequent dancing may improve cognitive function, offering protection from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia and Dance

As we age, our brain loses mental connections when brain cells deteriorate. Those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have an especially hard time with memory, and may exhibit confusion in familiar places. Currently, 850,000 people in the UK have dementia. The number is expected to surpass 1 million by 2025.

While disease and aging are a natural part of life, there are steps we can take to improve memory and brain function, keeping our minds sharp. Creative thinking and decision-making are two important steps, and dance can stimulate both these functions. Because dancing is a form of exercise, it promotes blood flow to the brain. This is also thought to encourage brain cell growth and survival.

Best Types of Dance to Prevent Dementia

Even if you haven’t touched your ballet shoes since your primary school days, it might be time to pick them up! Dance classes, such as ballet, tap, Latin, jazz, etc. could prove beneficial for the brain as we age. The act of learning steps and remembering routines without cues from the instructor present positive challenges for the brain. It’s all about neuroplasticity. The music and social environment of a dance class can also impact the inner workings of your brain.

The type of dance doesn’t matter as much as the frequency. The most important part of incorporating dance into your weekly routine is picking a class you’re interested in. A weekly or biweekly class that fits into your schedule could add enjoyment, as well as physical and mental benefits. You should ensure that the class is within your physical capabilities to decrease the risk of injury.

Finding partner dance classes is another great option. New neural pathways are stimulated by the quick decision-making needed to improvise dance steps with your partner. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that freestyle dancing, such as ballroom dancing, is especially effective in reducing the occurrence of dementia. In fact, this type of dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76%.

When Should I Start?

The sooner you indulge in dance, the sooner your brain will reap the benefits. It is never too late to start, but why not start today? Take a class and challenge your mind. Your brain will thank you for the investment.

Research is still emerging on the topic, but there is no denying that dance could slow down — or even counteract — age-related mental decline. Encourage loved ones to try it out with you, or just take the leap for yourself!