As we grow older we suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness, which can be made worse by serious conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
The study tracked two groups of volunteers who were 68 years old on average for a period of 18 months. But it is not known which type of exercise is best for the elderly.
Dancing and learning new routines can reverse ageing in the brain better than routine exercise and helps to fight dementia, a study has shown. The second group underwent traditional endurance and flexibility workouts that were repetitive, such as cycling or brisk walking.
These extra challenges are thought to account for the noticeable difference in balance displayed by those participants in dancing group.
By studying the brains of volunteers, researchers have found that the volume of the hippocampus, an area that plays a central role in memory and the ability to locate themselves in the space, was increased in all of the world.
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"Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity", said Kathrin Rehfeld from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany. This is important because this area can be prone to age-related decline and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer's. "The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor", she said.
These results are in line with other previous studies which proved that learning and memorizing choreographies promotes neural activity and functional connectivity between brain regions.
The researchers are now evaluating a new system that improves physical activity through the use of melodies and rhythm. This program "generates sounds based on physical activity" and is aimed at patients who "react strongly when listening to music". By combining the enjoyment of music and physical activity, they hope to help provide an exercise routine that not only improves health, but reduces the risk of dementia.
Journal reference: Rehfeld, K., Müller, P., Aye, N., Schmicker, M., Dordevic, M., Kaufmann, J., Hökelmann, A. & Müller, N.G. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 11, 305.