Could dancing help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

Dancing is fun, but the latest research suggests it could be far more beneficial for your health than previously thought. Scientists at Brno’s Masaryk University are studying the effects of dancing on a group of seniors to see whether practicing this form of activity regularly could slow down or even prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Irena Rektorová, photo: Czech TelevisionIrena Rektorová, photo: Czech Television A group of thirty seniors from Brno have adopted a hectic new lifestyle– instead of sitting on the couch and watching television they go dancing three times a week. Neurologists at the CEITEC research centre of Brno’s Masaryk University believe that regular physical activity combined with the mental activity of learning and memorizing new sequences of steps every week will lead to positive changes in the brain that could help prevent or at least slow down Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. Neurologist Irena Rektorová says it’s never too late to start.

“We are trying to prove that even people over 60 who start engaging in this kind of physical activity regularly will significantly benefit from it in that they will increase their cognitive brain functions. This requires not only physical activity but the mental strain of learning new steps, adding new sequences of steps that basically forces you to exercise your brain. So you will not only be in better shape physically but improve your cognitive functions.”

The selected group of seniors are all over sixty, and while some are mentally sharp others suffer from some degree of memory loss. Before starting the dance class all underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans. Later scans should show how the hours of physical activity and mental concentration affected their brain mass.

You could say this group of seniors is dancing for science but they would tell you it is as much fun as it was in their teens. Marie Floriánová says she’s glad she signed up.

“It gives me something to think about, you learn new things and new dance steps. I was worried about how I would stand the strain at first, but then I was really into it. Three times a week is a busy schedule but I’m happy and I am in much better physical shape.”

Illustrative photo: Pixabay, CC0Illustrative photo: Pixabay, CC0 Dance coach Pavlína Vaculíková says the dance classes are nothing to worry about. She says the class is tailored so that participants build up their strength gradually and start with what they already know.

“We started out with easy dances which people are familiar with – the polka or country dancing – and now we are gradually moving onto African and Greek dances which have a different rhythm which makes it more of a challenge.”

Researchers are already looking for a new group of volunteers to expand the research project. The CEITEC centre, which was established in 2014, is the only place in the country that has MRI brain scanners outside of hospitals, where there are permanently long queues of patients waiting in line. The CEITEC scanners have finally allowed neurologists to conduct research and scan volunteers as they need and since last year they conducted hundreds of such scans for projects relating to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.