We all know that exercise is very good for the brain. Physical activity increases the oxygen content of the blood and stimulates blood circulation, both of which are beneficial for the brain. Exercise improves and sharpens intellectual functions and perceptual ability. And that’s not all. It also inhibits the production of the stress hormone cortisol and thus keeps emotions in balance.
Physical activity also maintains a sense of well-being and happiness, as exercise stimulates serotonin production. This chemical change makes you feel better.
An interesting study was done on this topic. The researchers wanted to see what benefits walking, dancing and stretching had, and which of these three activities would have the most positive effects. To find out, they conducted an experiment with the help of a group of volunteers. Let’s look next at what conclusions they came to.
Brain-loved forms of exercise: an experiment
First, the researchers gathered a group of volunteers, a total of 174 people. All of them were over 60 years old, some over 70. It is common knowledge that in people of this age, the white matter of the brain is impaired. This has many consequences, e.g. memory impairment and cognitive impairment in general.
All the volunteers lived a rather inactive life. Most did not exercise at all. Even those who exercised did so very occasionally and for short periods of time. This was an ideal group to look at brain changes caused by physical activity.
In the beginning, everyone was tested aerobically. They were also tested to determine cognitive abilities and data processing speed. These tests serve as a reference in the study.
Brain-loved forms of exercise: a comparison
The group of volunteers was divided into three subgroups, and each person was randomly assigned to one of the subgroups. The first group started a walking program. The members of the group had to walk at a brisk pace for an hour three times a week.
Another subgroup did stretches. They performed stretching exercises three times a week in addition to supervised balance exercises and other similar activities.
The third group had to go to the dance studio three times a week. In addition to dancing, they also had to learn choreography, which gradually fell silent. They used a simple rhythm in the background: country music.
Brain-loved forms of exercise: results
The experiment lasted six months. The researchers then used computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging to look at changes in the brain. Some of the results were in line with what was expected, but some of the results were downright amazing.
First, the most significant thing was that the white matter in the brain was weaker in all those people who had been physically inactive before the experiment. But all participants saw significant improvements: they all got better results in tests measuring cognitive abilities and memory after the experiment.
The biggest surprise was seen in the participants of the third group. This group had had to learn complex dance choreography. All of them performed better than other volunteers. According to the researchers, this was because dancing was not only a physical but also a mental, social and fun activity. So it was a more holistic exercise. In fact, in many participants in this group, the researchers found an increase in brain white matter density.
Agnieszka Burzynska, one of the study’s leaders, said a similar study had been done in 2014. At the time, it was proven that the longer a person sat, the more his brain weakened, even if he was exercising at the end of the day.
The big conclusion, then, is that a sedentary lifestyle negatively affects the brain. In addition, physical activity reactivates the brain, and dance is much more effective here than other forms of exercise.