If you want to keep your brain young as the years roll by, science says you could try meditation. It's effective according to studies, but it's also hard for many people to get started. Weight lifting is also a research-backed option. But that involves soreness and sweat and really isn't everyone's cup of tea.
But what if I told you there's a more pleasant option, something you probably already do and enjoy that you could simply kick up a notch? According to new findings published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, a brain-boosting activity that's actually fun isn't too good to be true.
Werk that brain.
When the German researchers behind the study went looking for ways to turn back the clock on the brain, they decided to test different sorts of physical activity against each other. To this end they recruited a group of seniors and instructed half of them to do standard endurance training -- things like stretching, cycling, and walking -- while the other half took a weekly dance class.
Unsurprisingly considering the incredibly well documented benefits of exercise, both groups had healthier brains at the end of the 18-month study. But those seniors who dusted off their dancing shoes saw a greater reversal in age-related mental decline, including significantly improved balance.
These special benefits are probably not down to the particular physical stresses of the tango or square dancing, but to the mental workout required to learn the movements and stay in sync with the music. "The most challenging aspect for [the study participants] was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor," reports study author Kathrin Rehfeld.
"I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age," she concludes.
But wait, I'm still a long way from the old people's home...
While this study was focused exclusively on the elderly and is hardly definitive, there are plenty of reasons younger people should feel free to take the findings onboard and make more time to boogie in their lives. First, it's fun! You're certainly aren't doing yourself any harm by getting down to some good music, hitting the club, or joining a dance class.
Plus, there's evidence that listening to more music at home makes people happier, encourages families to come together, and might even lead to more sex. (Yup really, that's what one admittedly music industry funded study found). If dancing around to your favorite tunes is also helping to keep your brain young, that's just an added bonus.
Finally, still other science shows that physical activities that require a bit of balance such as getting down to your most energy-boosting playlist on your lunch break can actually improve working memory by 50 percent. So spending a bit more time dancing is good for your brain's current functioning as well as its future well being.
All in all it's pretty much an open and shut case. If you've always loved to dance but rarely find the time these days, it might be time to bust out of your inhibitions and your busyness and reconnect with your inner dancer. Your brain will almost certainly thank you.