According to The New England Journal of Medicine report on the effect of recreational activities on the mental acuity of the elderly, the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical, was dancing.
“The cerebral cortex and hippocampus, which are critical to these activities, are remarkably plastic, and they rewire themselves based upon their use.”
And from the study itself, Dr. Katzman proposed these persons are more resistant to the effects of dementia as a result of having greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses… Our brain constantly rewires its neural pathways, as needed. If it doesn’t need to, then it won’t.
….. Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing connectivity. Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes.
Dance also improves memory by forcing you to recall steps, routines and dance patterns, most often with very little time to process before moving onto new choreography.
Okay, so that’s the science. Makes sense, right?
Way back when I started this blog, I claimed that I was “the lab rat of your dreams,” that through me, you could all safely experiment with the mysteries of lupus and my, at the time, uncooperative and manic brain. Things are less melodramatic these days, but I’m still down with some experimentation. I want to challenge every chunk of my brain to be more than it was. I’m all about rewiring those neural pathways I keep reading about and lucky for me, I actually have the time to make a conscious effort to do it.
Tonight, more than any other night, I could actually feel the change in my brain from when I started dance class four months ago to now. I knew I had a lot to catch up on from missing last week’s class, but I floated into the class, completely relaxed. As I was laughing and throwing out silly commentary about myself, my brain was surprisingly sharp and focused. At the end of class, my classmate commented: “Wow, you caught on really fast. You got more than me and I was here last time!”
And yes, I know, it makes sense that the more you do something, you get better at it, but for me, my classmate’s comment means much more than that. After experiencing the inability to control what you say or do, to feel negative changes in your cognitive abilities, to know that your brain has lost it’s ability to understand what’s real and what isn’t, there’s a part of you that loses faith in your brain. And even now, when I am “normal” again, I still wonder if there was a permanent loss up there that I can’t feel yet or whether or not my brain would be able to “survive” again if I went through something like that again. I still don’t know those answers, but tonight I feel encouraged. I feel happy.