A study conducted on the BBC’s The Truth About Getting Fit showed that dancing could be the best exercise to get maximum brain benefits

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We’ve all heard about the brain-boosting benefits of exercise - it can make you more productive and improve your mental health too . But can it make you cleverer? According to the BBC’s The Truth About Getting Fit, yes. It’ll just involve swapping your running trainers for a pair of dancing shoes though.

Exciting recent research has shown that dancing has an unusually beneficial impact on our cognitive abilities compared to other types of exercise. Can it do so after just one session? Keen to see its effects first-hand, medical journalist Dr Michael Moseley  travelled to Coventry University to meet with a team of scientists conducting an experiment on the matter.

Salsa was the dance that was put to the test and the class was conducted by salsa instructor and exercise scientist Dr Pablo Domene. Beforehand, the volunteers took a series of mental assessments which measured skills that we use everyday - decision-making and the ability to avoid distractions, working memory and the ability to judge how fast things move through space. These tests were then repeated after the class to see if there were any changes in performance.

Improvements were seen in all of the categories: an 8 per cent increase in perception and cognition, a 13 per cent increase in focus and the most surprising to the team, an 18 per cent increase in working memory. Working memory is our ability to hold different bits of information in the brain and use them to get something done, (examples include holding a conversation or following a recipe).

Professor Michael Duncan, the cognitive scientist who led the experiment, commented that he had never seen a result like this for any other type of activity - including for  running  and cycling .

Most types of exercise will have a positive effect on cognitive performance, but what makes dancing especially effective? Salsa dancing for example, challenges the brain in ways that most other exercises don’t. From learning and remembering new steps to the different patterns and staying in time with the music, a wide range of co-ordinative skills are involved. The variety also makes zoning out impossible. “It requires a lot of cognitive manipulation while the dance is going on while you are also physically exerting yourself,” said Professor Duncan.

The test coupled with current research impressed Dr Moseley so much, that he highlighted dancing as perhaps the best exercise of all to get maximum brain benefits. If salsa’s not your cup of tea though, there’s also a growing number of places to book into to help you find your groove. From music video or hip hop classes at Frame  and Seen on Screen  to world dance classes at Danceworks , there’s something for everyone.

Watch The Truth About Getting Fit on BBC iPlayer here .

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