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SENIOR SCENE

By Paul V. Palange

One of my favorite jams is “Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone. The song makes it real “easy to move your feet,” which is a good thing, according to a study published recently in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

The study indicates that us older folks can reverse the signs of aging in the brain with regular exercise, and that dancing is the most effective form of activity to slow down the mental and physical decline we must endure.

In addition, Dr. Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study based at the Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Germany, says it’s possible that exercise can counteract age-related declines in our minds and bodies, and that the dancing participants showed improved balance. Now if that isn’t motivation to get off the couch or the recliner to boogie, I don’t know what is.

Volunteers that averaged age 68 were recruited for the study and assigned either an 18-month weekly course of learning dance routines or endurance and flexibility training, according to the Frontier website. Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain, an area that can be prone to age-related decline and is affected by diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It also plays a key role in memory and learning as well as keeping one’s balance.

To assess whether one type of exercise is better than another, the exercise routines given to the volunteers differed. The traditional fitness training program mostly consisted of repetitive exercises such as cycling or Nordic walking, but the dance group participants were challenged with something new each week.

According to Dr. Rehfeld, the dance group learned different routines of different genres such as jazz, square, Latin-American and line dancing. To keep the learning fluid, steps, arm patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week, and the doctor and her colleagues found the most challenging aspect for the participants was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor.

Those extra challenges are thought to account for the noticeable difference in balance displayed by the people in the dancing group, according to Frontier. Rehfeld and her colleagues are using the results to test new fitness programs that have the potential of maximizing anti-aging effects on the brain.

She told Frontier her team is evaluating a new system called “jymmin,” a combination of jamming and gymnastics. The sensor-based system generates sounds – melodies and rhythm — based on physical activity. The doctor explained that because dementia patients react strongly when listening to music, researchers want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and music in a feasibility study.

Like many people, Dr. Rehfeld says she believes everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life for as long as possible. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to that, and she is convinced dancing is a powerful activity that challenges seniors mentally and physically and has a positive impact.

If you believe, too, and want to do more than put on your favorite music and dance with your companion at home, you can check out zumba and yoga dance classes at the Smithfield Senior Center or zumba classes at the YMCA of Smithfield. You can obtain more information by calling the center at (401) 949-4590 or going online to www.smithfieldri.com/senior-center/; or contacting the YMCA at (401) 949-2480 or going online to www.ymca1.org.

To learn various dance styles, you can search the Internet for a studio near you. Two places that I came across are The Dancing Feeling at 2429 Post Road in Warwick, (401) 736-0110; and Jeff Allen’s Latin and Ballroom Dance Studio at 332 Atwood Ave. in Cranston, (401) 331-1400.

Dance lessons might be a cool holiday gift for a friend or loved one that has expressed an interest in improving his or her moves in the ballroom or acquiring some new steps.

Speaking of the “season,” I hope everyone has happy holidays. They can be stressful for some and depressing for others. But if people don’t sweat the small stuff, stay resilient and open their hearts to others, there’s a good chance they might enjoy the moment.