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Dance your way to a longer, happier life

Senior Moments

POSTED: April 9, 2017 6:30 a.m.
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Rich DeLong is executive director of Station Exchange Senior Care.

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Do you ever find yourself taking on new interests? If your answer is yes, then that is a good thing for your brain.

"Healthbeat," a Harvard Health publication, indicates two ways to keep your brain mentally sharp. The first suggestion is to stay busy and engaged. Activities like learning a new language or craft help stimulate the brain to make more connections. The more connections, or pathways, the more resilient the brain becomes.

Another way to keep your brain in shape is to stay connected socially. So often as we age, we tend to isolate ourselves and become less social with our time. Instead of being a "somebody" we become a "homebody."

Today’s world makes it easier than ever, so you never have to leave your house to do anything. Think about it. Just about everything we need or do can be delivered to our doorstep or performed through our laptop.

But if you really want to fire up the brain, then try social interaction and brain-engaging activities together. Examples might include volunteering or tutoring school children, leading a Bible study or Sunday school class, or taking a class at the local college or university; as long as you attend in person and not on-line.

What’s the best activity for joggin’ your noggin’? Why it’s dancing of course. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that leisure activities in general can help reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.

Reading on a regular basis helped reduce the risk of dementia by 35 percent. Working on crossword puzzles at least four times per week revealed a 47 percent reduction in the risk of dementia. Frequent dancing came in at a whopping 76 percent reduced risk of dementia; higher than any activity studied, cognitive or physical. Wow!

Will any kind of dancing lead to increased mental acuity? According to some dance experts, not all forms of dancing will produce the same benefit. Those that only work on style, or merely retrace the same memorized paths do not get the same effect. Making as many split-second decisions as possible is the key to maintaining our cognitive abilities.

Remember, intelligence is what we use when we don’t already know what to do.

However, don’t lose heart. Although ballroom dancing and line dancing require memorizing specific steps and turns that repeat over and over, if it is new to you, it will be good for you. Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity. Once you have mastered a dance, keep learning new ones for more fun and best results.

OK, maybe you’re not a dancer. Learning anything new will be good for you. Don’t worry about the probability that you’ll never use it in the future. And make sure you choose difficult tasks versus doing something you already know how to do. Challenge your mind. That is the goal. It will stimulate the connectivity of your brain by generating the need for new neural pathways.

But if you are inclined to dancing, then grab your partner, dust off them boots and kick up your heels my friends.

"…gonna hit the club, gonna cut a rug, burn it up like neon lights. Might have a little dirt on my boots, but we’re gonna dance the dust right off them tonight" -Jon Pardi, "Dirt On My Boots"

Contact DeLong at 912-531-7867 or email him at: SeniorMomentsWithRich@gmail.com

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