- I can’t believe my wife agreed to this
- The fun musical exercise that’s better for you than you think
- Why dancing makes your brain younger
My face went white with shock.
“You can’t be serious?” I said, voice shaky.
My wife nodded, “Yes, Ray.”
I sat down and buried my face in my hands.
HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING TO ME?
Lara shook her head sadly, as if I was a naughty seven- year old boy refusing broccoli.
“You’re being a bit pathetic,” she said, “if I must be honest.”
“But you don’t understand! It’s the worst thing in the world. I can’t do it.”
“Now you’re being silly.”
“You were there,” I yelled, “you saw what happened last time!”
At that, Lara did turn up her nose a bit. I could tell that she was remembering me on the dance floor at that wedding in 2007. I’d drunk a bit too much champagne and broken my rule of never dancing in public.
Suddenly, there I was, a big balding buffoon in a suit doing the Macarena to howls of laughter from pretty much everyone there, Lara cringing with embarrassment.
And yet, despite this…
Lara has accepted an invitation to a ball.
You know, with proper dancing.
If I can’t do the Macarena, how can I be expected to do the Tango, or the Cha-cha-cha?
In the unlikely event that I ever became famous enough to go on Strictly Come Dancing, I’d be the comedy one the voters kept on to spite the judges.
Or, possibly, booed off on the first night.
However, perhaps I should reconsider my attitude.
Because, as it turns out, dancing is really good for you.
The exercise that’s better for you than you think
Some experts believe that by the time we hit our 70s, we lose about 0.7% of grey matter in the brain per year, and about 1% of white matter.
(Makes us sound a little bit like crab meat, doesn’t it?)
The shrinkage varies, person to person, and it’s nothing to panic about but it’s there and it’s happening as you age.
It can lead to foggy thinking, poor concentration and a declining memory.
But these symptoms of ageing can be reversed – and in quite a surprising way.
A study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2017 showed that older people who partake in regular physical exercise can reverse the signs of ageing in the brain.
Okay, so maybe that is not so surprising, bearing in mind the power of exercise on other parts of the body.
But it might take you aback that dancing had more effect than endurance training!
Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, said: “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.”
However, simply bopping about the living room to your favourite song…. while that’s probably good for you… is not quite what you need if you want to reverse brain ageing.
It’s partly about the exercise, yes. But it’s more about the way your brain has to adapt to learning (and remembering) new steps or routines.
Dr Rehfeld said, “We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance). Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process.”
So with that in mind…
Perhaps I should reconsider my bad attitude to dancing?
Seems like taking some lessons in ballroom dancing with Lara would actually be one of the more healthy things I do all year.
It’s worth you considering…
Going dancing could not only keep you fit and help keep your brain alert, it could also find you new friends and new challenges.
However, if (like me) you’re absolutely mortified by the thought of dancing, or you have nobody who will do it with you, don’t despair.
The Disconnected Mind is a recent study which showed that while being physically healthier gives your brain an advantage, there are other factors that can slow down the ageing process in your brain.
Here are some of their suggestions:
- Break your routine – instead of doing the same old things at the same old time every day, mix it up a bit. Find things to do in the week you’ve never tried, or map out your days so that each one is different.
- Learn a language – according to a study in the journal Neurology, people who knew two languages developed dementia four years later (on average) than those who knew only one.
- Learn an instrument – similarly, taking up a new instrument will work well – mastering an instrument or learning to read music and other skills.
- Give your love-life a boost – this is one of those things you can’t always control if you’re single, but there are strong links between bedroom activity and brain power.
- Work! – this might sound unappealing if you’ve retired, but if you can find a fun or interesting way to make money it will actually keep your brain active. Try setting up a home business, selling on eBay or Amazon, creating your own blog or helping out at a local enterprise. It’s more about the activity than the profit.
- Have a party – this one’s fantastic. According to a Dutch study in 2012, the more social you are, the lower your risk of developing dementia. In fact, loneliness increases your risk by 65%.
So there you have it. The key to feeling, and thinking, younger is to take up some challenges you’ve not tried before.
Makes a change from simply worrying about what you eat, doesn’t it?
Perhaps try one of these ideas over the weekend and see how you get on.