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Latin Dancing & Brain Training: Keys to Brain Fitness?

Posted by Tilly Stevens on October 4, 2016 at 2:37 PM

Fit_older_couple.jpgThese days, we’ve come to understand that we can train our brains.

Obviously, the physical benefits of exercise have been preached and promoted for years now. Funny thing is, it seems that exercise also helps our brains.

The combination of these two forms of training, mind and body, benefit our brains more than if one or the other is undertaken.

Turns out, physical exercise actually serves to improve memory, says a study conducted by the University of Texas Dallas. 

More than this, the researchers found that the combination of aerobic physical activity with brain training can improve -

  • Decision making
  • Memory
  • Ability to process multiple pieces of information simultaneously

Shelly Kirkland from the Center for Brain Health and Brain Performance Institute explains that the regular training of one’s brain and body can regain decades of brain health.

It seems that aerobic activity improves our memory function within our brains and brain training harnesses our brains by unlocking our potential through neural plasticity.

Salsa Dancing

I myself have witnessed this benefit of brain and body training as a salsa instructor. The classes I teach tend to be predominantly populated by adults anywhere from 30 to 80 years old.

When teaching these adults the steps involved in salsa as well as the rhythm it matches within the music, I can visibly see their brains establishing new connections. 

At first some of these students simply are not able to ‘get it’. They become frustrated or perplexed as to why the simply can’t move their left foot on ‘1’.

So I make them do it again, and again, and again. I often joke that they’ll fall asleep hearing my voice saying ‘1, 2, 3 - 5, 6, 7’ (don’t worry, I can count. The 4 and the 8 in salsa are more of a tap than a step).

Through this repetition I can see the process becoming easier. The students hesitate less, lose the beat less and consequently enjoy it more. Smiles increase and once they know where their feet are going their hips unconsciously start wiggling. The whole atmosphere of the lesson becomes happier as the new neural connections become stronger and the endorphins flow.

The Neuroscience Link

Having now worked at a brain training company with Fast ForWord, I was able to understand that the process I was witnessing was the establishment and strengthening of new neural pathways within the brain.

As the new pathways are established, the students find themselves not completely able to perform the steps. Then as they repeat these movements that connection or pathway becomes stronger. The more repetitions, the more able these students are to not only complete the actions but also to remember the routines. Not to mention, it’s at this point that the ‘salsa flair’ starts to come out.

Just as this study says, exercise benefits memory and brain training improves abilities such as decision making and processing speed. All of which I have been able to see in my salsa students. One can’t help but feel like a proud mum by the end of just a one hour lesson and these students can suddenly do something some have been meaning to do for years.

Certainly, many need quite a few lessons to really get a hang of it, but nothing beats that first hour before which salsa was merely a tasty sauce and then after which it’s a new skill they’ve acquired.

Even if they will fall asleep counting beats rather than sheep.

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Topics: Brain Science, Memory, Fast ForWord, Music

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