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New Fitness Craze Lowers Dementia Risk By 76%

One of the most studied and proven routes to a healthy brain is regular exercise.

But what type of exercise is the most beneficial for brain health?

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine set out to answer that question, and they had a rather ambitious plan. They studied the effects of different types of exercise on brain health for a full 21 years.

And there’s one specific activity that tops their ranking of all recreational activities (both mental and physical) because it lowered risk of dementia more than three-fourths (76%, to be exact).

According to the Albert Einstein researchers, the BEST type of exercise for brain health is …

  • Enjoyable – Exercise is only effective if you do it consistently. And if you enjoy it, you’ll do it!
  • Varied – Variation in your workout boosts serotonin levels more than running the same path or performing the same routines repeatedly, found researchers for the documentary ‘Happy’.2
  • Involves other people – Social interaction builds and sustains relationships, contributing to happiness, longevity, and overall well-being.
  • Mentally challenging, with enough change or variables to cause new neural pathways to grow.
  • And … musical.

There’s only one type of exercise that checks off all these boxes …


The Perfect Type of Exercise?

With as many different types of dance as there are songs, variety is the only constant. As I just said, variation boosts serotonin levels.

Serotonin counteracts depression and regulates sleep, priming your body to fight disease. This is great news for those who are in the preclinical stages of Alzheimer’s or trying to prevent Alzheimer’s altogether. (See Issue #285)

Plus, a pilot study for Arts in Psychotherapy confirmed the positive effects dance had on depressed individuals—especially important because depression is a huge signal for the onset of Alzheimer’s.3

Variety not only puts you in a better mood, it actually increases your brain mass.

Richard Powers, an expert in American social dance, said the “split-second, rapid fire decision making” required in dance causes new neural pathways to grow in the brain.

And out of all the physical and mental exercise out there, dance alone stimulates the kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional parts of the brain at once.4

This Latin American Dance Class Checks All the Boxes—and Then Some

Dancing certainly sounds like the perfect exercise. But traditional dance also presents some obstacles, such as the need for a partner. Many people, especially, the elderly, may not have a “significant other”. And even among those who do, the partner may not be willing to take a dance class.

For older people, physical restrictions, too, may make partner dancing impossible. Not to mention, events, classes and clubs can be exclusive, expensive, or hard to find.

The solution?

Zumba — the Latin American dance/fitness class, widely available now across the country.

It makes sense why this group fitness class has become so popular …

Zumba classes incorporate a variety of moves, styles of music, and ever-changing routines, keeping participants on their toes, both mentally and physically.

Although you can master individual steps, the varied routines and continually changing repertoire provide endless mental challenge. It forces you to make instant choices as you watch and imitate the instructor’s movements.

Plus, the safe, fun group environment is full of encouraging shouts and silliness… and it seems to make the drudgery of “working out” feel more like a party.

Zumba is Not Just for Young Whipper-Snappers

Even though this sassy dance class is loud and high energy, it’s not just for young people. One study that found Zumba improved cognitive function and aerobic endurance in participants over 70.5

Besides that, the class can be adapted for those in chairs and can also be taught in water, making it accessible for people of any age or ability. You can even wear ear plugs if the music is too loud.

Even a few 90-year-olds insist their regular participation in Zumba keeps dementia at bay… and smiles on their faces.6

You can find Zumba classes at most gyms, and many community centers and churches offer classes for free. Faithful instructors even bring the movement into nursing homes.

In the interest of scientific investigation … and a healthy brain … you may just find me salsa-ing the afternoon away at a Zumba class near you…

  1. Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly
  2. Roko Belic Talks Happy Documentary
  3. Emotions in motion: Short-term group form Dance/Movement Therapy in the treatment of depression: A pilot study
  4. Use it or Lose it: Dancing Makes You Smarter
  5. (pg. 13) Wellness for the Ages: Eckmann researches mind-body improvements through exercise.
  6. Music and Movement Exercise May Stave Off Dementia