Seniors dance at the SeaTac Senior Center. (97.3 KIRO FM/Bill Swartz)

Study: Dancing makes you smarter

OK, I admit it, I'm a big fan of ABC television's "Dancing with the Stars." Just watching those celebrities hoof it, makes me feel better, and it turns out dancing could actually make you smarter too.

New research in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests seniors who dance often, stimulate their brains and their bodies. They're increasing mental capacity by doing the waltz, foxtrot, and rumba.

I had to find out whether this theory holds water, so I attended the weekly dance and luncheon for seniors at the SeaTac Community Center. Dozens of ladies and gents from their 60's to 90's glided and juked to the tunes supplied by the "Hanky Panky" band.

Everyone was smiling and laughing. Cathleen Cummings, city of SeaTac Senior Services Coordinator, says she sees a tangible change in moods during the dance sessions. "Their day is a better day because they've come here to dance," said Cummings. "They feel a little more mobile, that makes them happy, and maybe a little sharper."

Can a 15 minute spin on the dance floor actually boost my IQ, or at least keep me as smart as I am?

Ginger and Jim Bement started dancing during their high school dates in the 1950's. Ginger says after they've done the polka, "I do feel a little sharper, especially if we take lessons."

The New England Journal study doesn't determine which type of dance is the best to boost brainpower, but it does suggest trying different dance steps to stimulate the brain by creating new pathways. If you're just a one dance trick pony, you won't challenge your brain cells as much.

Will Dyrness, 90, says it's a great workout. "I'm good and tired, like I should be. My mind feels better, I think," he chuckled.

Fay Dyrness told me "dancing gets our blood circulating, gives us more oxygen, and makes us feel young."

Social dancing gives people other types of mental tests. Ladies must take cues from their partners and make split-second decisions about steps and patterns. The fellas have to decide whether it's time for the tricky spin move. Mara Oldroyd believes conversation during dances keeps her more focused.

"You have to interface with people, hear all their stories, and the dancing has lots of benefits, because the exercise is good for us."

Seniors need to move as much as possible to keep their muscles toned. As we've come to learn, balance, and falling are dangerous problems for folks in their golden years.

In the interest of great journalism, I did get out and dance a little. It wasn't the vigorous, Swartz-disco dance of the 1970's, but I did enjoy the music, the movement, and the chance to get smarter.

Bill Swartz, 710 ESPN Seattle
Sports anchor, news reporter, emcee, and a man of many voices, Bill Swartz has been a jack-of-all trades during his career, especially at KIRO Radio and 710 ESPN Seattle since 2002.
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