How does dancing affect the mind
Is Dancing Good for the Brain?
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By Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo, BSNReviewed by Dr. Liji Thomas, MD
Dance is a form of performing art wherein the body moves in a rhythmic way, usually to express feelings or ideas. Dancing has shown many health benefits, including boosting brain power and function.
Dancing can provide various physical benefits. Image Credit: goodluz / Shutterstock
What benefits does dancing have for the brain?
Dancing reduces depression symptoms
Dancing can provide various physical benefits but now, researches show promising results that it can also benefit the mind, with a growing body of evidence that suggests that dancing is good for mental health.
Depression is a disabling mental illness as evidenced by feelings of sadness, problems with emotion regulation, and loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Depression affects more than 350 million people worldwide. Today, the most common and effective treatment for depression is medication in combination with counseling and psychotherapy.
In a study, the researchers examined whether dancing was a good treatment therapy for depression. Dancing focuses on body movement and emotional expression, that helps alleviate the symptoms of depression. At the same time, it helps reduce the levels of depression as shown by psychometric measures.
Dancing supports motor, emotional, and intellectual brain functions
Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT), also called movement psychotherapy, is the psychotherapeutic use of body movements to maintain and improve intellectual, motor, and emotional abilities of the body.
DMT is based on the conception that movement is a language, movement can be communicative and expressive, movement can be both an assessment tool and a primary mode of intervention, and the mind, body, and spirit are interconnected. Furthermore, dance movement therapists can look at a person’s movements to assess and intervene, thus enabling it to contribute to the treatment of mental health problems.
DMT has also been found to have a positive effect on children’s cognitive development. Dance can use spirituality, intelligence, spontaneity, and discovery while the body is producing movements, which is a form of art. Dance therapy can create a good environment for cognitive development.
Dance As Therapy: Natalia Duong at TEDxStanford
Dance boosts memory
Dancing improves brain function and boosts memory. Several studies have shown that dancing is linked to a reduced risk of dementia. In a study by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, they found that dancing is associated with 76% reduced risk of dementia among the participants.
Another study published on the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that dancing improves cerebral health. Dancing improves one of the cognitive domains, which is spatial memory.
The study also suggests that maintaining an active lifestyle into old age can preserve motor, cognitive, and perceptual abilities.
Dancing stimulates nerve growth factors
Dancing has many positive effects on the brain. The driving force behind its inhibition of aging relates to its ability to stimulate nerve growth factors. Nerve growth factors are proteins important for maintaining sensory neuron health.
In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, the researchers concluded that dancing can boost the connectivity between both cerebral hemispheres, and long-term dance practice positively affects brain activity. All these are linked to neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural connections to change and adapt.
The combination of exercise and sensory enrichment during a dance can improve neuroplasticity. Hence, dancing can be used as an intervention for many neurological diseases, like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and cerebral palsy.
- Punkanen, M., et al., (2017). Emotions in motion: depression in dance-movement and dance-movement in treatment of depression. Oxford Handbooks Online. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199949298.013.58
- Goodill, S. (2016). Dance/movement therapy and the arts in healthcare: the first 50 years. American Journal of Dance Therapy. https://dx.doi.org/10.1007%2Fs10465-016-9235-z Balgaonkar, AV. (2010). Effect of dance/ motor therapy on the cognitive development of children. International Journal of Arts and Sciences. www.openaccesslibrary.org/images/XEW191_Asmita_Vilas_Balgaonkar.pdf
- Verghese, J. et al., (2003). Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly. New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022252
- Merom, D. et al., (2016). Cognitive benefits of social dancing and walking in old age: the dancing mind randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2016.00026
- Machado L. T. et al.,(2018). Dance for neuroplasticity: A descriptive systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.12.010
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- Can Dancing Improve your Mental Health?
Last Updated: Jun 26, 2019
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Can Dancing Improve Your Mental Health?
Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors
Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021
In this Article
- Potential Risks
- Tips on Using Dance to Improve Your Mental Well-Being
Dance has existed for thousands of years. Moving your body creatively is a popular way to express yourself and exercise. Up to 10 million Americans have danced at a studio or have taken a class. Even more just dance for fun at home or with friends.
Beyond just movements and music, dancing offers many benefits for mental health and brain function.
Dancing offers plenty of benefits for your emotions, intelligence, and relationships. Learning and practicing dance can:
Improve self-esteem. The amount that you respect and value yourself is your self-esteem. Showing yourself that you can learn and master new moves and skills through dance can improve your self-esteem and confidence.
Help you meet new people. Social interaction between groups of people is important to your mental well-being. Talking and spending time with others improves your mood. It also makes you feel like you belong and eases loneliness.
Dance classes, where you learn and move alongside others, are a great way to gain these mental health benefits.
Improve your mood and attitude. Dancing can improve your mood while you learn, move, and perform. In fact, many people take dance classes because they put them in a good mood.
Ease depression and anxiety. Dance is an effective type of exercise that raises your heart rate and works your muscles. Exercise can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety by releasing certain chemicals in your brain. It also provides a way to escape repetitive negative thoughts and worries. These are thoughts that run through your mind over and over.
Protect your memory. As we age, it gets harder to remember names, places, and other details. Learning new things, like different moves and styles of dance, sharpens your brain’s ability to remember these kinds of details. This can help prevent dementia.
The mental advantages of dancing depend on the type of dance you learn. Styles like ballroom dancing require a large degree of improvisation. These improve your decision-making skills more than completely memorized movements and routines. On the other hand, interpretive modern dance styles offer more benefits for creativity.
Injury. Just like any other form of exercise, dance involves risks of injury. Some of the most common injuries dancers get are to their hips, feet, ankles, and knees. Don’t overwork your body. Call your doctor if you have pain or soreness that keeps you awake at night, doesn’t go away, or gets worse when you’re dancing.
Self-consciousness. Even professional dancers sometimes feel self-conscious and insecure when trying different styles or learning new techniques. If you feel uncomfortable while learning something unfamiliar, try to focus on the movements themselves instead of how you think you look.
Tips on Using Dance to Improve Your Mental Well-Being
You can dance almost anywhere! Try many different styles and settings to see what you like best. Whether you’re alone or with a group, making it up on the spot, or performing a routine, you can incorporate dance into your life.
Take a dance class. If you want to interact with others while you dance, consider enrolling in a virtual or in-person class. Health clubs, community centers, schools, and other organizations often offer studio dance classes for all experience levels. A Google search for dance classes in your area will bring up your nearest options.
Dance with yourself. Dancing can be just as fun by yourself as it is with others. Turn on a catchy song and move your body to the beat and sounds. When no one is watching, it can be easier to enjoy the experience and not worry about how you look.
Learn a routine. If you want to challenge yourself, go beyond your improvised dance moves. Try teaching yourself a dance routine that someone else created. You can download apps or watch videos that explain a routine step-by-step. You can also learn movements and sequences from watching a dance performance over and over.
Don’t be overly critical. Many people dance for the sense of meaning that it brings to their lives. Natural talent is not required! Dance because it feels good. Don’t let your worries about looking silly stop you from having fun. Even professional dancers make mistakes. They use them to learn and improve themselves, and so should you.
How dance affects a person
It's simple: with the first steps in dancing, you begin the path to yourself, or rather to your improved version. As a rule, this is not an easy path and not at all short, but it is worth going through. Let's discuss this.
Dance is able to influence not only the body. It can change your thoughts, attitude towards yourself and others. Your plasticity and the way you move directly affect your self-esteem and emotional reactions. Have you ever noticed that all emotions are immediately reflected in the body, and the position of the body affects how you feel? This is because our body language and movement patterns directly affect not only how others perceive us, but also our sense of self.
How the body changes consciousness
Moreover, the behavior of the body is directly related to thinking, feeling and sensations. The body is able to remember the positions in which it spends most of the time. If you often experience negative emotions, they freeze in the body and turn into movement patterns. If you constantly experience fear, insecurity, embarrassment, then shrink, pull your head into your shoulders, slouch. The muscles responsible for these positions get used to being constantly in tension. To relax them, you will have to make a conscious effort. It turns out a vicious circle: emotions form muscle clamps, constant tension feeds emotions, and you can no longer get rid of this situation so easily.
Thus, you can not only get a negative habit, but, on the contrary, get rid of it. Good news, isn't it? In addition to high spirits, a person switches to sensations in his body, focuses on movements, forgetting about business and problems for a while. In addition, the first confidence in the movements appears, and, therefore, self-confidence.
“Dance is the most sublime, the most touching and beautiful of the arts, because it is not just an expression or a distraction from life, it is life itself,” the English psychologist and physician Havelock Ellis once said. And it's hard to disagree with that.
Dance is a complete cardio activity
An hour of active dancing can be compared to an hour of running on a treadmill or an hour of swimming. The load during dancing gives optimal training to both the heart and blood vessels, as well as the muscles and joints of the body. After a few weeks, you will notice that the body has become more elastic and toned, and the numbers on the scale will pleasantly surprise you.
Dancing, we not only get a lot of pleasure, a more elastic and flexible body, cultivate stress resistance, but also effectively train the cardiovascular system, increase the overall tone of the body and immunity, and become more resilient. Dancing is the perfect way to learn how to control your body. It's hard to imagine a dancer with bad posture. By mastering new dance steps, you will correct your posture, strengthen your back muscles and begin to move more gracefully and confidently.
Regular dance classes will teach you to really hear and feel the music. A dancing person develops a sense of rhythm, an artistic taste appears. Moreover, the sense of rhythm tightly enters your life, making you more collected, attentive, organized.
Dancing will make you smarter
Dancing has been proven to improve human cognition as it prepares the brain to learn something new. The dynamism required when making decisions (such as what dance move you need to do next) opens the way for new neural pathways that speed up and improve the transfer of information. Such actions contribute to the improvement of mental abilities, since cognitive processes are implemented in more than one way. So, by gaining dancing skills, you pump not only your body, but also your mind.
Start right now and dance more often! Especially social dancing.
Dancing increases neural connections in the brain
We become smarter and more confident, even if we only dance once a week! By memorizing a sequence of complex movements, our brain creates new neural connections. The more such connections, the better our memory, the higher the ability to concentrate and make decisions quickly.
The human brain is a complex thing. His main concern is our personal biological well-being. It controls all processes in the body, affects behavior, activates and relaxes muscles, gives the go-ahead to the production of hormones, and so on. It does this with the help of special signal commands - electrochemical impulses, which, like a relay baton, are instantly transmitted from neuron to neuron.
Tens of billions of neurons fit in the cerebral cortex (up to 100 billion, depending on the age and gender of a person). For each signal, its own connection is established, its own route is laid in the neural maze. The more such connections, the sharper our mind is with you, the faster we make decisions, achieve our goals.
And then the question arises: why, in the end, are we all so different? Do we demonstrate different levels of IQ, make a mistake in a difficult choice, dream, but leave the race without realizing what was planned? What, besides ordinary laziness, hinders us?
Pruning is an insidious optimization of neural connections
We receive the largest number of neural connections at birth. Imagine a dense forest and billions of barely visible paths in it. Over time, some of them are trodden into neat alleys, narrow paths or wide roads, and some (the most convenient) are concreted, turning into highways. Abandoned paths are overgrown with grass and disappear. This is how pruning works.
The neural connections we use most often are getting stronger. And those that remain unclaimed are weakening and eventually liquidated. There are pros and cons to the pruning process.
On the one hand, it eliminates chaos, streamlines and optimizes neural connections in the brain. On the other hand, it "mows out" quite useful connections of neurons. Those that are really important, but not used. For example, we do not need to hear with our nose, see with our skin, or smell with our eyes. It is much more efficient to do this with specially designed systems. But, you see, the superpower of “seeing with ears” would look interesting in our portfolio. However, thanks to pruning, we say goodbye to her already in infancy.
Next comes the turn of pruning processes of the second order. Just those that are responsible for optimizing our cognitive function. They streamline higher-level neural connections that are designed to make complex decisions. The process proceeds especially rapidly in adolescence, and ends by the time of maturity (at 20-30 years old). Here, it turns out, we can actively influence the process.
How to restore, strengthen and build up neural connections?
Our intelligence depends on the quantity and quality of neural connections. What did you see, where did you go, what did you teach, who did you listen to, what kind of life and professional experience did you get, how was it applied? Constant training of the brain, its fine tuning - that's what matters. Especially in adolescence, when the process of formation of neural connections of the highest level proceeds extremely rapidly. And here, the preservation of a couple of extra billions of such connections or the creation of new ones will only play a plus for us.
How to do it? Challenge yourself! Choose a new business - study it, master it, acquire a useful skill. And challenge yourself again. Yes, this is just about the notorious exit from the comfort zone.
Acquired skills form stable neural connections. Mastering new ones - complements the neural logistic map. You constantly correlate the new with the already known, you discover the relationship between seemingly completely unrelated things. This is called associative thinking (our creativity depends on it). In addition, the speed of thinking increases, the ability to concentrate, memory improves, self-motivation and self-confidence grow.
What is the fastest way to increase neural connections, you ask? The most effective tools are physical activity, meditation, playing chess or musical instruments, and creativity. And the leading position is occupied by . .. dances. Dance!
Dancing is the best method for building neural connections
The ability of the brain to create new neural connections and eliminate unnecessary ones is called neuroplasticity. Dancing actively stimulates her, improving the relationship between the left and right hemispheres. After all, during dance training, we set the brain a unique task - to combine musical sounds with the movements and position of our body in space. Several areas are involved at once - motor, cognitive, somatosensory.
Scientists believe that even one dance workout a week is enough to improve brain function. And if you train professionally, you can develop super skills - not to feel dizzy and not to lose balance! Yes Yes.