Feb 13, 2014

Dance: 10 reasons why dancing makes you smarter

1) Increases your intelligence and solving problem skills.

Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist and philosopher defines intelligence as "what we use when we don't already know what to do". When the brain evaluates many viable responses to an unfamiliar situation, and choose one of them (not by automatic response or habit), then this cognitive process is considered to be intelligent.

Dancing, especially improvising, requires a great amount of decision-making (split-second decision making in particular). This trains your brain to create new neurological pathways which overall improves your intelligence and ability in solving problems.

2) Improves your focus

Right after exercising, you are at your peak of attention and focus abilities. Dr. John Ratey, author of "Spark - The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" says that exercising (i.e. dancing) improves your brain in the short term by increasing your focus abilities for 2-3 hours afterwards. This is because exercising increases the neuroplasticity and serotonin levels of your brain and body (Points 5 and 6 below).

3) Enhances learning abilities

Studies demonstrate that exercising helps increase your learning and memory abilities. Exercising (i.e. dancing) increases the amount of oxygen in your brain, enhances energy production and waste removal. It also increases the level of growth factors in the brain - which helps replenishing brain cells and establishing new connections. This applies especially to exercises that challenges physical or hand-eye coordination, such as dancing, or exercises you have never tried before (may be a new dance style such as Flamenco). 

"A team of German researches found high school students who had completed ten-minutes of complicated fitness routines scored better on high-attention tasks than those who did 10 minutes of regular activity. Notably, those who did not exercise scored the worst."
Reference: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/how-exercise-can-help-us-learn/

4) Helps impulse control

Dancing triggers your endorphin levels which actually improves the ability of your brain to prioritize. After exercising, your ability to sort out priorities improves, which will allow you to block distractions and concentrate better.

5) Increases serotonin ("happiness hormone") level

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in your intestinal tract, central nervous system, blood plateles and the pineal gland (at the center of your brain).  It is responsible for enhancing brain's functions, such as learning. Research studies have also demonstrated that increased levels of serotonin improves your sense of well-being by improving your mood, appetite and sleep. 

A study done at Princeton University says "serotonin is also known as a happiness hormone because it contributes to feelings of well-being."
Reference: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/232248.php

6) Increases elasticity of the brain

The cerebral cortex and hippocampus of our brains are very elastic. They "rewire" themselves after each use. Dancing helps "rewire" our brain - it helps forming new neural pathways increasing the stimulation of our brain. The cerebral cortex's functions include memory, awareness, consciousness and attention. The hippocampus is a major component of the human brain - and plays a role in spatial memory and navigation. 

7) Increases your energy (and ability to think clearer)

After dancing, you feel energized. Dancing (exercising in general) regularly not only improves your muscle strength and boosts your endurance, but it will also give you the energy needed to think clearer. If you are performing a task that requires high levels of concentration but not much physical movement (i.e. studying), every now and then take at least a 10-15 minutes break, move around or dance for a while. This will increase the production of energy in your body and enhance your ability to think clearer and come up with new ideas.

8) Increases/Improves cognitive functions at ALL ages 

Cognitive function refers to our ability to process thoughts. It includes memory, attention, speech abilities, reading comprehension, and ability to learn new information. Aging and certain diseases may affect these functions over time resulting in memory loss and trouble with communication. Dancing improves your cognitive functions, regardless at what age you start.
Reference: http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2006/12/18/what-are-cognitive-abilities/  

9) Reduces the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer's disease)

Dancing improves our cognitive functions over time, which reduces our risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease (which is the most common type of dementia). A 21-years study done in Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City demonstrated that dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76%, in comparison to other physical and cognitive activities such as reading, bicycling, playing golf, doing crossword puzzles, etc. 
Reference: http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm

10) Activates different areas in your brain (areas that are not typically engaged in movement alone)

- Superior Temporal Gyrus: Processing the heard music
- Putamen: Rhythmic movement
- Thalamus: Sensory information with irregular movement
- Cerebellum (Lobules III, V, VI): Synchronizing movements with music
- Superior Parietal Lobule: Kinesthesia helping guide leg movements
 Reference: http://bboyscience.com

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