If this is the answer, what is the question: 100 billion. Any guesses? One answer is the number of stars in the Milky Way. It is also the number of neurons (brain cells) belonging to your average adult human. The brain typically shrinks with increasing age, at least in part due to death of neurons, leading to a decline in our mental abilities. However, we now know that new neurons, as well as new connections between them, can be generated throughout life. Exercise seems to slow or reverse the brain’s physical decay, much as it can with muscles. However, while exercise promotes the production of new neurons, learning a new skill helps to join them to the existing network of cells in the brain, without which the new brain cells would not survive.
Dancing combines the benefits of exercise with those of learning a new skill - dancers are constantly learning. This may be why a major study of the susceptibility of senior citizens to Alzheimer's disease found that dancing was the best method of reducing dementia risk. While a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease was associated mental tasks such as reading (35%) and doing crossword puzzles (47%), frequent dancing was found to reduce the risk by a whopping 76 per cent. Other physical activities included in the study, such as cycling, swimming and golf were not found to have any beneficial effect on Alzheimer's risk. Dancing has also been found to be beneficial for people living with Parkinson's disease.
Psychologist Jean Piaget defined intelligence as "what you use when you don't know what to do". What better way to keep your mental acuity in top form by challenging yourself with new skills? In a dance environment, you are using several brain functions at once - kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional. You have to make rapid decisions about which way to turn, what speed to go, and which limbs to move. In a class environment, you are continually learning new and changing choreography. You are forced to use - and build - your intelligence as your teacher gives you new challenges. In partner-based dance you are constantly adapting to your partner's movements - you don't know what to do, you use your intelligence to respond accordingly.
While moving at a slower pace, and less involved in rapid decision making, Pilates also involves continual learning of new movements and choreography, combined with the benefits of mindfulness and correct breathing, which help to ease stress and calm the mind.
Not that this is ultimately why you should dance. I would love you to dance for joy. The more the better - so dance, dance like noone is watching!
Fitness and Pilates instructor with a passion for science.