Brain Health Benefits of Dancing

St Barnabas DancersJanuary 16, 2019 – Dancing is a great way for your body to stay in shape. It improves  strength, endurance and balance. And it is also fun! As consultant to St Barnabas Health System’s Cognitive Brain Health Program, I was please to learn the positive responses from residents who now have the opportunity to learn and practice ballroom dancing. The Alzheimer’s Association, Pittsburgh Ballroom Association and St Barnabas, have now joined to offer residents a dancing program entitled, “Joy through Dance Program”.

What many people don’t realize is that coordinated physical activity (dancing) can also have significant brain benefits.  Dance requires mental, physical, emotional and social skills. All of these functions working together to benefit the brain and overall health. Dancing requires multitasking that can improve cognitive function and even slow the aging process. A 2017 study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, showed dancing may be a better form of exercise than traditional fitness training when it comes to slowing the signs of aging.  They evaluated brain MRIs of dancers and found improved functional connectivity of the visual brain systems and of the general motor learning network. These functional connectivity differences were related to dance skill and balance and training-induced structural changes compared to non-dancers.

Dancing has also been shown to reduced risk of developing dementia. A study published in 2003 in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that dance can improve brain health. The 21-year study of senior citizens, aged 75 and older, measured each participant’s mental alertness as a means of monitoring the rates of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers studied a range of cognitive and physical activities, such as reading; writing; doing crossword puzzles; playing cards; playing musical instruments; dancing; walking; tennis; swimming and golf.  Dance was the one activity that significantly reducing dementia risk. Regular dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76%, twice as much as reading. Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week reduced the risk by 47%, while cycling and swimming offered no benefit at all.

North Hills Monthly Magazine recently did a feature article on the Joy through Dance Program at St Barnabas.  The quote below is from Manager of Memory Care Services, Midge Hobaugh:

“We are so very happy with the outcomes thus far, and we are grateful for the opportunity through Pittsburgh Ballroom and the Alzheimer’s Association,” Hobaugh said. “We are also grateful that our families said ‘yes’ to the opportunity. The goal of the program is to provide joy, and we’ve already witnessed that in our first few sessions.”


Agnieszka Z. Burzynska, The Dancing Brain: Structural and Functional Signatures of Expert Dance Training, Front. Hum. Neurosci., 27 November 2017 |

Joe Verghese, M.D, Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly, N Engl J Med 2003; 348:2508-2516
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022252