Ring in the new year with dance

A very happy New Year’s from the staff at the CSU Extension office.

Many of us are starting out the new year with goals of losing weight, getting into shape and improving our overall well-being. Dieting and working out is always helpful, but we can also have fun along the way by including dance in our lives.

All physical movement can have fitness benefits, but movement while dancing improves more than your muscles.

Babies move to communicate their needs to parents, like stretching and yawning to show they are tired, or pulling their knees up to their chest to show they have an upset stomach. Young children are constantly moving to express themselves, to mimic something they have observed or just because it feels good.

When movement is combined with the rhythm of music, it becomes dance and the physical, emotional, social and cognitive benefits multiply.

Benefits of dance

• Physical benefits: Dance improves range of motion, muscle tone, bone strength, coordination, strength and endurance. Because dancing requires a pattern of movements, it helps memory as well.

• Emotional benefits: Creative movement allows humans to express their emotions. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found that social dancing reduces stress and increases energy levels. Dancing can improve self-esteem, because it improves feeling comfortable in your own body and how it moves.

• Social benefits: We learn how to communicate and express ideas with others in a group setting. In dance, there is cooperation and interaction that helps us appreciate others.

• Cognitive benefits: Like other kinds of physical activity, dancing increases blood flow, which in turn brings more oxygen to the brain. Studies show that many of us learn the best by doing and dance is a wonderful way to learn. Learning while moving is called kinesthetic learning.

Dancing makes us smarter

A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one’s mind by dancing can ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit. Dancing also increases cognitive acuity at all ages.

A New England Journal of Medicine report has the following to say on the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in aging.

The 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

The study wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity. They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial effect. Other activities had none.

They studied cognitive activities such as reading books, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards and playing musical instruments. And they studied physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework.

One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. There can be cardiovascular benefits, of course, but the focus of this study was the mind. There was one important exception: the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.

Reading — 35 percent reduced risk of dementia.

Bicycling and swimming — zero percent.

Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week — 47 percent.

Playing golf — zero percent.

Dancing frequently — 76 percent. That was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.

We immediately ask two questions:

• Why is dancing better than other activities for improving mental capabilities?

• Does this mean all kinds of dancing, or is one kind of dancing better than another?

That’s where this particular study falls short. It doesn’t answer these questions as a stand-alone study. Fortunately, it isn’t a stand-alone study. It’s one of many studies, over decades, which have shown that we increase our mental capacity by exercising our cognitive processes. Intelligence: Use it or lose it. And it’s the other studies which fill in the gaps in this one. Looking at all of these studies together lets us understand the bigger picture.

The essence of intelligence is making decisions. The best advice, when it comes to improving your mental acuity, is to involve yourself in activities which require split-second, rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths) or just working on your physical style.

One way to do that is to learn something new. Not just dancing, but anything new. Don’t worry about the probability that you’ll never use it in the future. Take a class to challenge your mind. It will stimulate the connectivity of your brain by generating the need for new pathways. Difficult classes are better for you, as they will create a greater need for new neural pathways.

Then take a dance class, which can be even more effective. Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.

The study made another important suggestion: do it often. Seniors who did crossword puzzles four days a week had a measurably lower risk of dementia than those who did the puzzles once a week. If you can’t take classes or go out dancing four times a week, then dance as much as you can. More is better.

And do it now, the sooner the better. It’s essential to start building your cognitive reserve now.

See you on the dance floor.

The above information was taken from the article “Dance … A Way to Improve Fitness” written by Tracy Trumper, family and consumer agent for CSU Extension in Phillips County and “Use It or Lose It; Dancing Makes You Smarter,” written by Richard Powers, full-time instructor at Stanford University Dance Division.

CPR and first aid classes

CPR and first aid certification classes are now being offered monthly by the CSU Extension office on the second Monday and Wednesday of each month from 6 to 10 p.m. Anyone needing to receive or renew certification can register by calling the Extension office at 264-5931.

We will also attempt to schedule classes on additional dates with five or more registrations. Cost for the classes is $80 for combined CPR/first aid and $55 for CPR, first aid or recertification. The type of first aid information provided will vary by the needs of the audience.