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Research shows dancing can make for healthier brains

Research shows dancing can make for healthier brains
Two participants in the Body, Mind and Movement Program get their muscles moving along to the music. The program is designed to stave off declining cognitive function after studies show music and exercise combined help maintain brain health. The program runs on Friday mornings at the Woolwich Memorial Centre.[Liz Bevan / The Observer]
Two participants in the Body, Mind and Movement Program get their muscles moving along to the music. The program is designed to stave off declining cognitive function after studies show music and exercise combined help maintain brain health. The program runs on Friday mornings at the Woolwich Memorial Centre. [Liz Bevan / The Observer]

Combination of exercise and music helps to combat the onset of dementia, among other benefits.

A group of people gather in the Woolwich Memorial Centre every Friday to dance the morning away, while also trying to keep the effects of dementia and cognitive decline at bay.

Through the Body, Mind and Movement Program, run by dance teacher and Alzheimer’s researcher Jill Simpson, attendees get themselves moving to the music and improve their brain health.

Simpson says the most beneficial activity to stop the worsening of cognitive decline isn’t crosswords and puzzles, but rather, exercise and some music.

“Crosswords are a great thing to do, however they are not the greatest,” she told the Observer just before her morning class on Dec. 4. “(Activities) have to have a cardiovascular component. When you exercise, at a certain heart rate, our brains start pumping these chemicals. The music component is very important, too, because there is a part of our brain that perceives rhythm and it is also the part of the brain that produces these chemicals, or neurotransmitters.”

While researchers haven’t figured out how to reverse cognitive decline, plenty of studies have revealed that exercise and dance can prevent damage from worsening, maintaining current levels of cognition for longer.

“Things we thought were going to be dynamite weren’t necessarily good – swimming, running, walking had zero effect on the brain,” said Simpson. “It has be very specific exercise. There was only one activity that was better (for brain health) than crosswords, and that turned out to be dance. But what is it about dance? As a memory trigger, music is awesome. This class is a combination of using the rhythm to stimulate your brain while you are producing these neurotransmitters (during exercise) and putting it all together so that people can come and feel they are doing something for their brain.”

The class runs every Friday morning at 10:15 a.m. in the seniors’ centre at the WMC, and drop-ins are welcome.

Participant Jane Goll says she leaves the class every week feeling better than when she went in, even going home with different tips, tools and information relating to brain health.

“She does a little talk before hand about dementia and about Alzehimer’s. I just find that to be a great help and she gives us ways to fight it on our own time,” she said, adding that the class is always dynamic and uplifting. “The class is always fun and (Jill) is really great. She keeps it lively and it is just a lot of fun. She is very good.”

Elaine Wilson says she always has a good time in the class and it gives her a boost for the rest of her day.

“I don’t really enjoy exercise, but (Jill) makes it fun,” she said.

Some of the exercises are done from a chair to get heart rates up and muscles moving. Then, Simpson takes the exercisers on a walk around the gym, to the rhythm of the music, teaching short and simple steps.

Everyone is encouraged to move at their own pace, and to make use of the area around them.

The class held at the WMC is just one of four currently running in the region, and Simpson says there are plans for a fifth class starting in the new year. For more information about the Body, Mind and Movement program, and its different locations, visit Simpson’s website at www.bodymindandmovementprogram.com, or email her at bodymindandmovementprogram@gmail.com.

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