My friend posted an article with this title: “Neuroscientists Finally Revealed the Number One Exercise for Slowing Down the Aging Process.” Well who wouldn’t click on that? I admit, I did not think long enough to guess the exercise, but I somehow knew it would not be running or weight lifting. Turns out, according to the article and the study it cites, it’s dancing.
“Of course it’s dancing!” I said to myself and commented on my friend’s page. That makes so much sense. It’s fast (or at least it can be), so you get your cardio. It requires flexibility, erect posture, and excellent core stability and strength—all physical attributes of healthy aging. Dance steps, taken in temporal and spatial order, require visual, auditory, and motor coordination, connecting all different parts of the brain at once, in concert and synchronization. Moreover, I’m convinced that the simple rhythm of music resonates with something deeper in us, something transcendent, which must have anti-aging neuro-hormonal benefits!
In addition, dancing is usually done with others. This social aspect of the activity cannot be underestimated, especially as we age. I am convinced and have said many times on this blog and in life, it’s our relationships that kill us or save us. And when we’re having fun dancing to songs and rhythms that move collective body and soul all at once, that has to be a good thing.
So basically, dancing activates key areas of the brain and body in an orchestrated fashion, igniting motion, joy, connection, exhilaration, sensory integration, creativity, passion, cardiovascular elasticity, and fun. How could this not make us all younger?
The article, however, describes changes in the brain that occurred in 2 groups of elderly study participants, one randomized to dance classes with varying choreography, the other to training for strength, endurance, and flexibility. The primary measure of ‘anti-aging’ was measurement of the hippocampus area of the brain and its sub-regions. Both groups had increases in volume in this area, but the dance group had increases in more sub-regions than the exercise group. This is a far less exciting interpretation of ‘slowing down the aging process’ than my own instant and intuitive “a-HA” conclusions above.
It’s okay though, because I can choose to follow my own understanding while the scientists continue their quest for the neuroanatomic proof of what we all know through living. Mine is the deduction that will resonate with people and help get my kids, friends, family, and patients moving (dancing!) toward more optimal and youthful health.
I learned from my trainer about the five factors that keep kids in sports; we agree they are the same five factors that keep adults in any exercise routine:
- It’s FUN. Who wants to do something three to five times a week that’s a total slog? So we gotta find something we enjoy, that we look forward to doing. Just this brings the exercise threshold to a low enough activation energy that anyone can do it.
- Our friends are doing it. I have not studied the social aspects of exercise and motivation, but I know this is a common experience. We have more fun and work out harder, and time goes by faster when we’re with our friends. Not to mention, the exercise becomes a bonding activity. Here is one of many summaries of the benefits of workout buddies.
- We feel like we fit in. I used to think this was the same as #2. But this is more about self-consciousness. It’s distracting and kills motivation. Maybe all you need is to buy the cute yoga clothes and hang out at the back of the class to feel like you fit in enough, while you fake it ‘til you make it. Or maybe you need to go with your friend who’s been a hundred times, who can introduce you to her buddies, who will welcome you, and you will immediately feel like one of the tribe. That acceptance fosters relaxation that allows you to engage with your full presence and then some.
- We feel competent. This one is key, I think. If we walk into the gym with no idea how to use the equipment, or walk on the court feeling embarrassment about our poor skills, we are far less likely to return than if we can say to ourselves (quietly), “I’ got this, bring it.” Competence prevents injury and breeds confidence, which fuels motivation, and then–
- We feel we can improve. We relish the challenge. One more push up, pull up, half mile, weight bar; better form, faster pace, farther distance—when we feel inspired to reach, stretch, and expand our limits, we cannot wait to get back at it. Can you not hear Gloria Estefan singing in your head right this moment??
So get your groove on, my friends. Even if it doesn’t make you younger, it’ll make whatever time you have in this life a lot more fun and memorable!