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4 Simple Rules to Shape Up Your Memory

The latest research shows that all of us can pump up our brainpower by exercising regularly

4: Dance like nobody's watching

"A colleague once told me, 'The problem with older people is they just don't dance anymore!' " says Carstensen. "He's right. Dancing is terrific exercise; it's fun and something most people can easily do." 

Besides giving you a great cardio boost, dance improves balance, coordination and flexibility. It's also a weight-bearing exercise like jogging, walking, skiing, climbing stairs or skipping rope. These impact-producing activities all help you build bones and slow bone loss, expercially in the legs, hips and lower spine. Ballroom dances (think waltz, tango, foxtrot, salsa, cha-cha and swing) also work all the major muscle groups and build stamina.

Recent studies also have found that dancing helps forestall memory loss and dementia. A 2011 study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that older adults who met twice weekly for six months to dance the cha-cha improved their memory and cognitive performance on a variety of tests.

A 2005 study by researchers at McGill University in Montreal compared two groups of older adults — one group danced the tango twice a week, the other simply walked. After 10 weeks, both groups did better on several cognitive tests. But the dancers outperformed the walkers on multitasking tests and saw additional gains in their coordination and balance.

Tips:

  • The next time you have friends over, shove the coffee table aside, put on some music and just move it. No one's judging you, so park your ego at the door.

  • Feeling rusty? Check out dance classes at your local Y or senior center; you'll be surprised at the variety. Learning new moves, or refreshing old ones, challenges your brain and builds new connections.

  • Too shy? YouTube offers thousands of videos that can get you up to speed before you put on your dancing shoes.

Next page: Doctor's orders. »

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LAUGH OUT LOUD: Cartoonist and animator Walt Handelsman takes a hilarious look at middle-age forgetfulness.

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