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5 Things That Will Happen To Your Brain When You Dance

5 Things That Will Happen To Your Brain When You Dance

Those of you who like to get your groove on on the dance floor will probably be surprised to find out that you are doing yourself a world of good. Dancing is more than just an enjoyable activity to experience with friends or your partner; dancing has the amazing ability to improve the way your brain functions. Let’s look at five exciting things that dancing can do to your brain.

It’ll enhance neuroplasticity

A study led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, was conducted over a period of 21 years and looked at senior citizens 75 years and older. The researchers measured mental acuity in aging by monitoring rates of dementia. The aim of the study was to find out if any physical or cognitive recreational activities had an effect on mental acuity.

The study found that some cognitive activities influence mental acuity, but almost none of the physical activities had had any effect. The one exception was frequent dancing. Some findings of the studies were:

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  • Reading – 35% reduced risk of dementia
  • Bicycling and swimming – 0% reduced risk of dementia
  • Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week – 47% reduced risk of dementia
  • Playing golf – 0% reduced risk of dementia
  • Dancing frequently – 76% reduced risk of dementia

People who dance regularly have greater cognitive reserves and an increased complexity of neuronal synapses, explained neurologist Dr. Robert Katzman. Dancing lowered the risk of dementia by improving these neural qualities. Dancing may cause the brain to continually rewire its neural pathways and by doing so help with neuroplasticity.

It’ll make you more intelligent

What is meant by intelligence? If our response to a given situation is automatic (the stimulus-response relationship is automatic) then it is generally accepted that intelligence is involved. When the brain evaluates various reasonable responses and deliberately chooses one response, the process is considered to be intelligent. Jean Piaget stated that intelligence is what we use when we don’t already know what to do.

To put it simply, the essence of intelligence is making decisions. To improve your mental acuity, it is best to involve yourself in an activity that demands split-second, rapid decision making. Dancing is an example of a fast-paced activity that demands speedy decision making. It requires instant responses to questions like Which way to turn? What speed to move your body? and How to react to your partner’s movements? Dancing is an excellent way to maintain and enhance your intelligence.

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It’ll improve your muscle memory

The article The Cognitive Benefits of Movement Reduction: Evidence From Dance Marking states that dancers can achieve complex moves more easily when they undergo the process of “marking”—walking through movements slowly and encoding each movement with a cue.

Researcher Edward Warburton, a former professional ballet dancer, and his colleagues looked at the “thinking behind the doing of dance.” They published their findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. They found that marking lessened the conflict between the cognitive and physical aspects of dance, and doing so gave the dancers a chance to memorize and repeat moves with greater fluidity.

It was concluded that visualizing movements and marking can help improve muscle memory. This type of visualization and marking, learned through dance, can also be used across a variety of fields to optimize performance.

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It’ll slow down aging and boost memory

Dr. Katzman believes that the more complex our neuronal synapses are, the better. He believes that you should do whatever you can to create new neural paths, and dancing is a great way to do this.

As you get older, brain cells die and synapses become weaker. Nouns, like names of people, are harder to remember because there is only one neural pathway that leads us to this stored information.

If you work on learning new things, like dance, you can work on building different mental routes and many paths. So if one path is lost as a result of age, you have an alternative path that you can use to access stored information and memories.

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It’ll help prevent dizziness

Have you ever wondered why ballet dancers don’t get dizzy when they perform pirouettes? Research suggests that through years of practice and training, dancers gain the ability to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear that are linked to the cerebellum.

Dr. Barry Seemungal of the Department of Medicine at Imperial explains that “It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input. Consequently, the signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy.”

If you suffer from dizziness, then making time in your schedule for any form of dance is a good way to address this problem. Dancing will help improve the function of your cerebellum, which in turn may help you improve your balance and make you less dizzy. You do not need to be a professional dancer to benefit from this sport. Dancing at all levels will help.

Conclusion

Dance can be a great way to maintain and improve many of your brain functions. Dance can increase your neural connectivity because it integrates several brain functions at once; rational, musical, kinesthetic, and emotional. This increased neural connectivity can be of great benefit to your brain as it ages. So, dance now and dance often!

Featured photo credit: teo_ladodicivideo via flickr.com

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Last Updated on October 23, 2018

Science Says Knitting Makes Humans Warmer And Happier, Mentally

Science Says Knitting Makes Humans Warmer And Happier, Mentally

My mother was a great knitter and produced some wonderful garments such as Aran sweaters which were extremely fashionable when I was young. She also knitted while my father drove, which caused great amusement. I often wondered why she did that but I think I know the answer now.

Knitting is good for your mental health, according to some research studies. The Washington Post mentions a 2013 survey of about 3,500 knitters who were asked how they felt after a knitting session. Over 80% of them said they definitely felt happier. It is not a totally female occupation as more and more men take it up to get the same benefits. Harry Styles (One Direction) enjoys knitting. So does Russell Crowe although he does it to help him with anger management!

The Neural Knitwork Project

In Australia, Neural Knitworks was started to encourage people to knit and also become aware of neuroscience and mental health issues. Knit-ins were organized but garments were not the only things created. The knitters produced handmade neurons (1,665 of them!) to make a giant brain. The 2015 project will make more neural knitted networks (neural knitworks) and they will be visible online. You can see some more examples of woolly neurons on the Neural Knitworks Facebook page.

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While people knitted, crocheted and crafted yarn, they listened to experts talking about mental health issues such as addiction, dementia, depression, and how neurons work.

The knitting and neural connection

The human brain has about 80 billion neurons. Learning new skills, social interaction, and physical activity all help to forge neural connections which keep the brain healthy and active. They are creating networks to control movement and make memories. The knitters learn that as they create the woollen neurons, their own neurons are forming new pathways in their brains. Their creations are mimicking the processes in their brains to a certain extent. At the same time, their brains are registering new and interesting information as they learn interesting facts about the brain and how it works. I love the knitworks and networks pun. What a brilliant idea!

More mental health benefits from knitting

Betsan Corkhill is a physiotherapist and has published some results of completed studies on her website, appropriately named Stitchlinks. She conducted some experiments herself and found that knitting was really helpful in reducing panic and anxiety attacks.

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“You are using up an awful lot of brain capacity to perform a coordinated series of movements. The more capacity you take up by being involved in a complex task, the less capacity you have for bad thoughts.”- Betsan Corkhill

Knitters feel happier and in a better mood

Ann Futterman-Collier, Well Being Lab at Northern Arizona University, is very interested in how textile therapy (sewing, knitting, weaving and lace-making) can play an important role in mood repair and in lifting depressive states.

She researched 60 women and divided them into three different groups to do some writing, meditating and work with textiles. She monitored their heartbeat, blood pressure and saliva production. The women in the textiles group had the best results when their mood was assessed afterwards. They were in a better mood and had managed to reduce their negative thoughts better than those in the writing and meditation groups.

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“People who were given the task to make something actually had less of an inflammatory response in the face of a ‘stressor’.” – Dr. Futterman Collier

The dopamine effect on our happiness

Our brains produce a chemical called dopamine. This helps us to feel happy, more motivated, and assists also with focus and concentration. We get a boost of dopamine after sex, food, exercise, sleep, and creative activities.

There are medications to increase dopamine but there are lots of ways we can do it naturally. Textile therapy and crafting are the easiest and cheapest. We can create something and then admire it. In addition, this allows for a little bit of praise and congratulations. Although this is likely not your goal, all these can boost our dopamine and we just feel happier and more fulfilled. These are essential in facing new challenges and coping with disappointment in life.

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“Sometimes, people come up to me when I am knitting and they say things like, “Oh, I wish I could knit, but I’m just not the kind of person who can sit and waste time like that.” How can knitting be wasting time? First, I never just knit; I knit and think, knit and listen, knit and watch. Second, you aren’t wasting time if you get a useful or beautiful object at the end of it.” – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much.

If you thought knitting and textiles were for old ladies, think again!

Featured photo credit: DSC_0012/Mary-Frances Main via flickr.com

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