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Some research suggests that regular dance classes can improve cognitive function and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Dr. Joe Verghese, associate professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in the Bronx, conducted a research study comparing the effects of different types of physical and mental activities. Dance was the only physical activity that was found to reduce the risk of dementia.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason, Verghese has a few theories. “Dance is a complex activity. You have to follow the music, remember the steps and improvise,” says Verghese. “And it’s a physical activity so it also increases the flow of blood to all parts of the body, including the brain.”
While Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association, agrees that the social and physical aspects of regular (at least twice a week) aerobic dance classes may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, she says that even learning a new dance doesn’t necessarily count as a mental activity. “Once a dance is practiced you don’t really think about it any more, it’s like driving a car. When we talk about increasing mental activity, we’re talking about learning a new language, a new subject, or reading a book.”
So if you want to be sure to increase your mental activity, you’ll have to compliment your dancing with a class on the history of salsa or a book on your favorite dancer or musician.