TIME for Health Talks
July 29, 2020 4:02 PM EDT

We all know that being more active is a good way to keep your body healthy. And more and more data are suggesting that it can have benefits for the brain as well.

To understand why dance can be so beneficial, I spoke to Helena Blumen, assistant professor in the department of medicine at Albert Einstein Medical College, and Derek Hough, professional dancer and choreographer from Dancing With the Stars and currently a judge on World of Dance. It was helpful to hear Blumen talk about what she and others are finding out about what happens to the body and brain when you dance, and also hear directly from Hough about what happens to his physical and mental wellness when he dances.

Blumen is studying dance in older adults, and described a study in which she compared people assigned to walk on a treadmill to those in a social dance class for six months. She theorizes that people who dance may show more encouraging improvements in tests of their cognitive functions than those walking on the treadmill; she says the social nature of dancing—working with a partner, as well as the intellectual skills required to learn steps and think about connecting different movements—could contribute to these benefits.

Hough described those processes as “not linear or lateral; it’s four dimensional.” For him, dancing is “constant problem solving,” and that may be part of why Blumen is expecting to see those cognitive benefits in the people assigned to dance in her study.

The most important lesson from the discussion is that dance is good for getting your heart rate up and keeping you active, but it may also help to sharpen some of the thinking skills that tend to deteriorate with age.

In fact, no matter how old you are, dancing may be a good way to keep fit and stay sharp, and even get your creative juices flowing. If you’re intimidated by dancing, Hough has this advice: “When in doubt, shake it out! This is reclaiming something, this freedom, this childlike state of ‘who cares the way I move, who cares if people are looking or watching.’”

Try it for yourself—Derek teaches a quick routine at the end of the video above that will hopefully inspire you to start dancing.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

EDIT POST