A University of Miami study suggests that both aerobic and more sophisticated dancing can enhance mental capacity.
By Barbara Gutierrez
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 23, 2017) — A study at the School of Education and Human Development showed mental improvements after 10 weeks of dance classes. The findings suggest that exercise might improve mental function by learning new movements, as well as improving aerobic capacity.
The study was conducted at UM’s Laboratory of Neuromuscular Research and Active Aging, in collaboration with Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Sean Nicolle, a graduate of UM’s Doctorate in Exercise Physiology program, led the study and used the findings and analysis as his doctoral thesis.
Forty volunteers, from 40 to 80 years old, participated in 10 weeks of either ballroom or aerobic dance classes. Subjects were tested for mental function, both on a computer and using a movement test in a physical environment at the beginning and at the end of the study.
Why compare aerobic to ballroom dance? The ballroom dance group was focused on learning new steps (movement patterns), while members of the aerobic dance group were busy trying to keep their heart rate up (aerobic capacity).
The researchers found that both groups improved mental functioning. Michela Laureti, of Arthur Murray Ballroom Studio, explained that the mental benefits of ballroom dance come from the process of learning new steps, as well as working with partners. Aerobic dance is thought to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain, and the aerobic dancers might also have had to pay attention to quickly changing movements.
Nicolle explained that the goal wasn’t just to see what kind of dance improves mental function, but to understand how the brain and mind work.
He believes that “the brain adapts in specific ways to what is demanded of it. It doesn’t have to be dance. Everything with a mental demand will make the brain adapt. The mental benefits of dance classes are probably different than those of rock climbing.
“We would expect dance classes to improve mental functions related to rhythm and coordination, while learning something like rock climbing would probably challenge the brain to improve mental functions related to anticipation, planning, and problem solving,” he said.
The study is titled “Impact Of Dance Complexity on Computer-Based And Movement-Based Cognitive Performance.”