Health is an extremely personal thing, and no one diet or exercise routine works the same for everyone.
But one thing’s for certain when it comes to succinctly and completely healing degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia: one barely practiced activity towers above the rest, at least according to a landmark, forgotten study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Rarely Practiced Type of Dancing Wipes Out Alzheimer’s & Dementia
The study in question, published in 2013, showed that the simple act of dancing “dramatically reduces the occurrence of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease,” as noted by the website Psychology Today, by as much as 76 percent in total.
One particular type of dancing helps seniors reap the full benefits: freestyle dancing, which is practiced without restrictions to the beat of a song, or sometimes uses a simple rhythmic pattern while allowing dancers to improvise and add their own moves.
Some common examples of freestyle dancing that have long been practiced by senior citizens, especially those who grew up during the Roaring Twenties, include the basic foxtrot, waltz, swing dancing, and perhaps even the rumba and cha cha, according to Richard Powers, a 40-year dance teacher at Stanford University.
These highly intuitive and free-flowing dance styles allowed senior citizens to stay mentally sharp, engaged, and in the moment regardless of what happened to be going on in their lives at the time, while also offering a quality form of exercise to get the heart pumping and neurons firing in the brain.
In the aforementioned study, 76 percent of Alzheimer’s reduction was found to be twice as effective as reading, and playing sports or practicing choreographed dance sequences had “no benefit at all,” the article continued. Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week had a 47% reduction according to the 21-year study of senior citizens 75 years of age and older.
“Freestyle dancing requires constant split-second, rapid-fire decision making, which is the key to maintaining intelligence because it forces your brain to regularly rewire its neural pathways, giving you greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses,” wrote Dr. Ilene A. Serlin in Psychology Today, citing the 5Rhythms Reach Out freestyle dancing organization.
While every body and mind are different, it goes without saying that this type of dancing could have the effect of not just saving lives, but literally saving the personalities and memories of senior citizens across the world who are lucky enough to participate.
How to Practice Freestyle Dancing
In recent years the world of dance has shifted from a mostly performance-based art to one that has been recognized and utilized as a vehicle for healing and promoting an incredible sense of well-being.
But for many of today’s senior citizens, it’s hard to beat classic dance techniques like the ones mentioned above, as well as others like ballroom dancing that imbue a certain type of feeling in all who practice them.
“If I had my way, I’d dance every night,” says 101-year-old ballroom dancer Sally Salamy in the video below from the Orlando Sentinel, displaying the mental acuity of someone decades younger.
“I feel free. I feel like a bird. And I feel that I’m not old.”