It's the evidence I've been looking for! The long sought after truth that the many years I've given to dance is going to pay off in my old age! But this is evidence in a direction that I never expected. For those who think that dance is for people that are more inferior in their intellectual capacity (why else would anyone choose the arts over academics?) Well here is the data - read it and weep!
A 21 year study done by a team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine looked at a the correlation between leisure activities and the risk of dementia (declining cognitive abilities) - in a collection of elderly individuals. The results (at least from my perspective) were surprising.
Mental tasks such as creative writing, reading, playing music, group discussion, crossword puzzles, board games and cards; physical tasks such as tennis, , golfing, swimming, bicycling, dancing, bowling, walking and climbing stairs - all were considered and their impact assessed with regard to their reduction of incidences of dementia. A few of the results were as follows: Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia; Bicycling and swimming - 0%; Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%; Playing golf - 0%; Dancing frequently - 76%.
Remarkably dancing was the only physical activity that resulted in a reduced risk and was almost double the effectiveness of even the most risk-reducing mental activity. Richard Powers, Prof at Stanford University observes that "Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing your connectivity...Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional processes."
Further, researchers have discovered that styles of dance that involve constantly changing movement patterns (like swing dance or any freestyle dance) rather than the same repetitive rote patterns (like ballet or ballroom dance) increase the impact of the dance form on the brain. It seems, the need for the brain to make snap decisions with each "next step" actually helps to create new neural pathways in the brain. Since dementia is the result of neural pathways becoming blocked, single pathways for a given activity can become quickly disabled. Multiple pathways, on the other hand, permit the brain to adjust to new courses whenever one pathway gets blocked.
So keep those bodies moving - it's good for your brain!