Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were recruited to the study and assigned either an 18-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.
To assess which exercise would most optimise cognitive function, the exercise routines given to the volunteers differed.
The traditional fitness training program conducted mainly repetitive exercises, such as cycling or Nordic walking, but the dance group were challenged with something new each week.
These extra challenges are thought to account for the noticeable difference in balance displayed by those participants in the dancing group.
In her concluding remarks, Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, said: “I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”