Jayney's Blog

Ballroom dancing

Strictly Brain Health; “Use it or lose it!”

We all know that doing brain-training exercises such as Sudoku increases our grey matter, but it turns out that you can get an additional brain boost by donning your best-sequined frock and dance shoes and ‘throwing some shapes’…

Physical activity, (especially aerobic exercise and lifting weights) positively affects our brain function. Research shows that even 20 minutes of exercise, improves our ability to process information and supports memory function.

So how does exercise affect our brain?

  • An increased heart rate through physical activity pumps more oxygen to our brain – giving it the fuel it needs for optimal functionality.   
  • It facilitates the release of a plethora of hormones, all of which support a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells, called neurogenesis.
  • Stimulates neuroplasticity – the growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of our brains.
  • Initiates the feel-good factor aka the “runners high” found in humans when we do a lot of intense exercise. A heightened level of feel-good hormones known as “endorphins” assist in lowering stress hormones within the body.
  • The antidepressant effect of exercise has been associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus which is an area of our brains that is responsible for learning and memory.

Both mental and physical exercises are equally important when it comes to brain health!

There are a number of ways to train your brain from the daily crossword through to puzzle-solving apps. They are worth the investment of both time and a small amount of money because they really do improve cognitive function and this ultimately staving off conditions such as dementia.

However, if you want to really ensure your brain health into old age, physical exercise is paramount when it comes to preserving enhanced cognitive function.

It used to be thought that our cognitive function declines automatically as we get older.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Older brains do behave a little differently – and as we age, we may learn ‘new tricks’ fractionally slower, but our abilities to learn are not compromised overall. We can make dramatic improvements to our cognitive function very quickly.  So, if you set your mind to learning something new – even in old age, you will reap the benefits of this effort both structurally and functionally very quickly.

In fact, using physical exercise alongside brain training systems increases our chances of improving cognitive function and brain structure within certain parameters, including time of exercise and style of exercise.

This is illustrated by the gains made by participating in different exercise styles such as choosing cycling in a changing landscape vs sitting in the gym on an exercise bike. 

Engaging – or stimulating the brain – is associated with enhanced brain function both during and after working out.

Strictly speaking (see what I did there!), one of the most effective brain anti-ageing activities that you can undertake is ballroom dancing. This activity has both physical and mental demands and therefore it has a higher impact on our cognitive functioning over general exercise or mental tasks alone.

Ballroom dancing has another secret advantage when it comes to anti-ageing: it necessitates interaction with other people and any regular social interaction has been shown to add approximately 9 healthy years to your lifespan.

As if you need any more reason to take to the dance floor, dancing is known is impact our physical and mental health via these additional channels:

  • It is an aerobic form of exercise that improves brain function and it also acts as a first aid kit helping to repair damaged brain cells through the heightened level of red blood cells containing oxygen are being transported to the brain throughout the activity.
  • It spikes brain activity and immunises you against mental stresses and improves your capacity for retaining information, particularly if you dance early in the day.
  • It incorporates coordination along with cardiovascular exercise naturally ensuring the brain is syncing with your muscles and making it work hard on muscle memory beyond the activity.

The benefits really do speak for themselves and explains why more and more people are turning to dance as their number one activity to keep not just their body but their brain healthy also…

So, I guess all I can really say for today is… ‘Keep Dancing!’

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