Don’t worry, you don’t have to run a marathon or lift heavy weights to train your brain (unless you want to, of course). Rather, consider adding dancing to your workout routine. In fact, Toups says this simple exercise can even be a helpful therapy method for those with dementia (in addition to those trying to prevent it). And she’s certainly an expert on the subject: She published a dementia study this past summer (along with neurologist Dale Bredesen, M.D., who we’ve also had on the show), in which 84% of patients with mild cognitive impairment saw improvement after only nine months.
But back to the exercise at hand: “Dancing, in particular tango dancing, can be very helpful for people with dementia,” Toups says. One factor influencing this correlation is the fact that tango is a partner’s dance. “It gives you another level of brain stimulation,” she says.
She even references a study that assessed the impact of a 12-week, 20-lesson Argentine Tango course. Researchers measured plasma inflammatory markers, cognition, and motor and psychosocial performance in middle-aged women at increased risk for Alzheimer’s by virtue of parental history. The results? “Participants in tango demonstrated improvements in whole-body spatial cognition and short-term and working memory, and reduced deterioration of executive function1,” researchers report.
Of course, movement in general is great for your brain, but tango and other partner dances feed on social connection as well. “We know that being socially connected is something that actually facilitates more longevity and better aging,” Toups adds. And social isolation, for what it’s worth, has been associated with a higher risk of developing dementia.