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Dance is superior to repetitive physical exercise for brain plasticity (2018) (plos.org)
467 points by prostoalex on July 25, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 214 comments



Looking at this:

"Dancing compared to conventional fitness activity led to larger volume increases in more brain areas, including the cingulate cortex, insula, corpus callosum and sensorimotor cortex. Only dancing was associated with an increase in plasma BDNF levels. Regarding cognition, both groups improved in attention and spatial memory, but no significant group differences emerged. The latter finding may indicate that cognitive benefits may develop later and after structural brain changes have taken place."

May I translate: They saw improvements in things they could easily measure. They hope this translate into improved cognitive ability. But it actually didn't. But they still hope it'll do that later.

(FWIW: I'm an active Lindy Hop dancer - ok, I have been before covid... - I love dancing and I am really looking forward to when I can visit dance festivals again.)


Someone else already pointed out that this is actually quite significant, just the time might have been too short but there is clear indication something is there.

For me the key question is: what is the key ingredient (or the right mix of ingredients)? E.g. is it having a programme to follow (having aims/duties is known to increase longevity, see the famous 'plant study')? Or rhythmic fluid movements (so like tai chi or qi gong or yoga)? Or the combination with music (multimodal stimulation)? Or the social component of dancing (so e.g. encouraging proximity like mutual hair brushing, engagement that encourages touch, etc)?

Fascinating and raises many new questions. But it's clear the most deadly thing is probably inactivity.


I would guess the main driver for brain stimulation is the coordinative aspect of dealing with many motor skills over different body parts doing different things, while also coordinating the rhythms and cadence of music in your mind. So the more coordinated the movement (ballet, flamenco), the more stimulated. There's also the component of memorizing sequences. In this respect, yoga is also very fruitful. Many traditional yoga teachers say that yoga makes you more intelligent.

As a personal experience with ballet for over 5 years (starting in mid-twenties with no prior dance experience, and taking up other modalities later), it has completely reorganized my mind; now I have a strong and reliable memory for body movement, now I have a durable sense of sequentiality that I apply to everything I do (the gains are most apparent when doing many chores, cooking, getting ready for an overseas trip, etc), so that my consciousness is well ordered and doesn't get confused with simultaneity of inputs, but knows how to prioritize easily and without my ostensive effort. It's a bit like having trained a highly capable assistant that now takes over for many tasks that would previously leave my head dizzy with an influx of urgent demands.

Some of this applies to music and learning an instrument, especially not a woodwind, melody-only on, but a coordinating instrument like piano or other strings, especially if you are singing on top of the harmonny. Both dance and music are fundamentally about harmony, in dance you harmonize your body parts relative to each other and to the dance, and in choreographies like ballet, even more so to the other dancers, requiring exacting precision and balance.

Yoga and the classic dances are hard stuff, taxing the mental faculties. It may only not seems so outwardly because so many natural dancers start from early ages, and like learning a language, any mildly talented person starting so early will achieve ease eventually. But building that ease for late starters is much tougher than, say, programming a single page app, if I may be so bold.


> "I would guess the main driver for brain stimulation is the coordinative aspect of dealing with many motor skills over different body parts doing different things, while also coordinating the rhythms and cadence of music in your mind. So the more coordinated the movement (ballet, flamenco), the more stimulated."

Interesting that you mention flamenco [1]. I started dancing flamenco 8 years ago, at age 42. I am a late starter to dance, which is a polite way of saying I actively avoided it for most of my life.

When I started, I could barely put together a half-dozen steps. And if I tried to add arm, hand or head movements, my feet went out of time. My brain just didn't feel big enough There was no way I could remember even a tiny section of a choreography like this one I link to from Marco Flores.

Yet as I got more experienced, my brain gradually adjusted to think of body movements as integrated flows, not individual motions. It learnt how to "chunk" them together into logical sequences, and how they align to a piece of music. Much to my surprise, I can now remember complex choreographies several minutes long.

My next challenge is to internalize all of this, so I can relax and dance more comfortably. Maybe I'll never get good enough to improvise dancing with a guitarist and singer. But looking back, I am thrilled how far I've come.

[1] Since few people here will be familiar with flamenco, here is a clip of Spanish dancer Marco Flores performing a Seguiriya: https://youtu.be/ajVmaj6Z93o?t=397.

Notice how Marco beats out what appears a chaotic rhythm with his feet, yet it keeps coming back to the strict beat clapped out by the singer. If you try to follow along, note the rhythm here has a 5-beat bar: 1-and, 2-and, 3-and-a, 4-and-a, 5-and. So the 1, 2 and 5 are short, and 3 and 4 are long.


Hey! Yes, flamenco is well considered a complex musical instrument of percussion, much like a Jazz drummer could make complex patterns and improvise. Hope we get to dance together someday on some improvised street somewhere in the world! The great thing about flamenco is that, even though it's almost or quite involved like ballet (the national ballet in spain trains top ballet dancers to combine flamenco dance in choreographies), it's something you can start much later and also have a longer career into your seniority (keeping your wits about and Alzheimer's well away).

Also, some versions of the opera Carmen has almost an hour-long flamenco part, it's worth watching, a good french opera.


The authors of the studies seem to believe that the "combination of physical activity and sensory enrichment" and “cognitive and coordinative demands” are the key ingredients.

If this is the case then the results should also generalise to sports, which have an aspect of sensory enrichment and coordinative challenge.

But I agree with you, it would be very interesting to actually find out what the “key ingredients” are. Especially since dance is so diverse and difficult to define. In fact, I think the category of dance can be best described using Wittgenstein's concept of family resemblance. There is not one essential common feature between all forms of dance, instead there are a lot of overlapping aspects.


It's only different for sports because all the coordinating (like of old the activites of hunting and war) applies to a single focus, the body is all maneouvered to the same mind state. In dance, you have to coordinate subtle muscles in precise ways. In sports, the precision is about the particular result you want (a stroke, a kick), but in dance, there are many goals and you need to mind whether your thigh muscle is holding up in just the proper, beautiful way, because the teacher and a knowing audience can tell, much like in musical performances, whether you are really achieving the coordination or faking, or being a beginner. The coordination in dance is of several (and I mean tens of body parts or muscles at the same time) parts having different purposes (supporting the movement, getting balance, showing off, giving impulse, etc) and the brain having to watch them all, all at once. It's much harder to dance beautifully than to swim or run or jump and throw a basketball beautifully, because in dance aesthetics is the primary source of goals for all those body parts, they have different roles or different relationships to the same melodies and harmonies playing over the dance.


May I ask what the “plant study” you are referring to is?


Sorry for not being more clear, I meant Langer's classic study. A critical/write-up here:

https://www.coyneoftherealm.com/2014/11/05/re-examining-elle...

Langer gave houseplants to two groups of nursing-home residents. She told one group that they were responsible for keeping the plant alive and that they could also make choices about their schedules during the day. She told the other group that the staff would care for the plants, and they were not given any choice in their schedules. Eighteen months later, twice as many subjects in the plant-caring, decision-making group were still alive than in the control group. To Langer, this was evidence that the biomedical model of the day — that the mind and the body are on separate tracks — was wrongheaded.


> May I translate: They saw improvements in things they could easily measure. They hope this translate into improved cognitive ability. But it actually didn't. But they still hope it'll do that later.

I find your translation misleading. They did see improved cognitive ability, just not superior to the conventional fitness program at the time of measuring. Increased BDNF, which stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, is actually pretty significant so they are not pulling potential future development from thin air.

Mind you the sample population is the elderly, for which the prospect of neural growth/protection is pretty important, and this might have further applications to other populations such as recovering alcoholics, methamphetamine users, and even depression/anxiety sufferers where hippocampal volume decrease is indicated.


In the Sports Group SG ‘We avoided combined arm and leg movements in order to keep coordinative demands low.


Always amazed on how dancing and music can lift ones mood :)


My first dance teacher used to refer to a similar study from 10 years ago in NEJM (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmoa022252); his commentary is at https://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm

But yeah, getting into lindy hop 15 years ago was literally the best thing that ever happened to me. It's incredible, being able to go to any major city on the planet and instantly finding a community.


I agree completely. I do salsa and every time I travel (which was a lot pre covid) I would look up dance venues and you're always guaranteed a great time. It's also amazing how diverse the salsa community is, there are people from 20 to 80 of all social and ethical backgrounds dancing with each other (I saw similar things in the swing community when I tried it out)


Similarly, contradance (though that's much more limited to the US).


What is contradance? Do you have any experience you’d like to share?


The English country dance tradition in the USA evolved into contradance (corruption of "country dance"). It diverged in the 18th century when English country dances were almost entirely longways dances, so there are only a few squares formations left, almost vestigial. Then in English the whole explosion when the quadrille arrived from France and began hybridizing with English country dance happened, and then the waltz... Meanwhile in the USA, contradance continued on without that influence. Though they later picked up the waltz, and a contradance today conventionally ends each half of the dance with a waltz, the first of which you conventionally dance with someone not your significant other and the second you dance with your significant other if you have one.

Contradance is where I tend to start totally new dancers. The community tends to be extremely welcoming. Most dances have an expectation that experienced dancers will spend at least part of the evening dancing with newcomers and trying to get them up to speed and comfortable. Once they've got the sense of weight and motion, then you can drag them off to swing, ballroom, or whatever else, but it really is an incredibly effective setting for instilling some fundamentals and confidence.

It's also interesting because you can go from Virginia to Washington state and walk into a contradance and wonder if you traveled at all.


Contra is now pretty popular amongst folkies in the UK (well, England, anyway). Ceilidh (around the UK) is the wander-in-and-give-it-a-go thing, less taxing and more energetic than contra, and should be very welcoming and age-blind. (Less chance of throwing a whole set if you get it wrong, and typically less intricate.) I guess with most genres you'd feel at home joining in somewhere else. The big long festival of folk dance/music in England should have been happening from this weekend. There's plenty of video of Sidmouth Folk Week on youtube^Winvidio.us if anyone's interested, though more of the displays than the social dancing.


Does that mean contra is supplanting the necromancy that was reconstructed English country dance in the UK?


...to any major city with modern values. While I share the sentiment with you :)


I knew someone teaching it in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.


No wonder science journalism has a hard time keeping to the facts, even with direct access to the paper we're upvoting and misunderstanding a paper of trivial significance...


> The latter finding may indicate that cognitive benefits may develop later and after structural brain changes have taken place."

I'm confused by this part. How does the "latter finding" indicate that benefits may develop later? The "latter finding" is that there hasn't been any benefits yet. Does that suggest anything whatsoever about what will happen later?


If something hasn't happened yet it indicates that if it does happen it will happen later. For example, since pigs haven't flown yet, if they do fly, it will have to be later.

Seriously, though, I think the researchers were trying to put a positive spin on a negative result but went too far.


I suspect they meant the former finding, i.e.: "volume increases in more brain areas, including the cingulate cortex, insula, corpus callosum and sensorimotor cortex"


That still doesn't make sense. They take it is a forgone conclusion that volume increases will _eventually_ result in cognitive benefits, but provide no evidence or sources to support that notion. Of course, it seems to intuitively make sense that "bigger brain means smarter", but in a science article I would imagine they would be more rigorous about substantiating things.


Fellow lindy hopper here too. Yes the communities around the world have been hit hard. Social dancing is unfortunately an ideal setup for the virus to spread. I share your hope and look forward to dancing again.


I danced latin and ballroom during my masters and first two years of PhD. I never knew i would have that level of coordination.

Then I danced salsa and butchata when I moved university and it made me much more sociable. Whether or not its translated to cognitive ability, I'll never know. But it has translated to confidence and sociability, and it's a great way to get out if my own head and have fun.


Whereabouts are you? Are there any festivals you'd recommend in particular?


Lindy Hop?

In the states the biggies are: Camp Hollywood (lotta pool time, lotta drinking) Lindy Focus (christmas -> new years, it's nuts) Nevermore (my personal favorite) Camp Jitterbug (used to be super relevent as the contest weekend event, sorta on the decline/ not sure) Lindyfest has some nice peeps at it Camp

the biggest is Herrang in sweden, it's the lindy hop mecca trip.

Also check out: https://www.swingplanit.com/


I would not recommend a beginner start at Camp Hollywood. It’s a bit intense.

Lindy on the Rocks in Denver is usually pretty good. There’s a huge swing dance community in the Front Range.


I respectfully disagree. They have a ton of beginner classes and a lot of opportunity to be exposed to contests and good live music.

Yeah the party scene is a bit nuts but you don't have to be a part of that.


I've been a dancer for 30 years, of many forms.

The best way I can describe dancing to non-practitioners is that it's like playing a silent, wearable musical instrument that demands attention from your entire body.

It is not like playing a sport, except perhaps if you do it competitively :-)


I’m an (international level) competitive ballroom dancer and a martial artist of 15 years and there’s a lot of overlap between the two.

And it’s really valuable to me as a software engineer - at the very least it forces me out of my chair at 6.30pm 5 days a week to go to the studio, when otherwise I could easily find myself working 12-14 hours days because I am “in the zone” (which is easy for me to do because of the years of martial arts and meditation practice) which for sure would not be good for my health.

It is also a great emotional outlet for me as most of my day I am dealing with machines and logic.

And the best part is that I dance with my other half - we spend a lot of time together, travel together and get all our arguments done on the dance floor and not at home! :)

I definitely recommend dancing, any kind, to anyone and everyone.


Why ballroom and not Tango? I find Tango pairs much more naturally to martial arts.


Ballroom is 10 dances which means 10 times the variety of music to dance to. Also our outfits are way fancier. :-p


It was a bit of a setup, ;) this is the answer I was looking for!


Not op but I guess it depends. E.g. I know aikido, salsa (ny and Cuban), bachata, kizomba and tango. For me NY salsa looks the most martial artsy.


That is an excellent analogy, it is similar to martial arts and Tai Chi.

That said, professional athletes I've known pay a lot of attention to their specific form when doing actions to minimize energy and maximize power.

It appears to me to be the difference between actively managing how your body moves versus just letting it do what ever to get the action done.


I would guess Yoga is good for this too then. And I imagine if this this the case "drunken night club dancing" might not count - you would need to deliberately practice dancing?


I would guess that a good follow on paper would be to look at any activity which involved active kinematic management of the body to see if it had similar markers.


So, you need to be a competitive dancer then? ;)

To get that good you need discipline and dance for years (or just be a natural), so don't seem that far fetched to be at a similar difficulty level as sports in this regard.


You can be a competent partner/social dancer (swing, salsa, tango, waltz) in a few months of weekly instruction and practice (eg, attending dances).


I think followers can learn a lot faster because they're exposed to new moves all the time from leaders.

For leaders to build up a good vocabulary of moves requires a lot more than weekly practice though.


It depends (also I switch roles but primarily lead), vocabulary takes time, but you can have really, really good dances with limited vocabulary and good fundamentals, and often people focus on moves over fundamentals.

And fundamentals as a lead can be learned by dancing with intention.


It's too bad most people who try partner dancing don't stick it out long enough to break through the awkward stage to where it gets to be a lot of fun.


I think that's true for most hobbies, though. It's easy to bounce off anything that takes a bit of skill, because it can be a fairly large time commitment for an unknown payoff.


I've done lots of activies, including sports and dance, and some activities simply have a higher barrier than others.

Partner dancing - at least leading - is definitely on the higher side :-)

There are several factors. Leaders must endure months where they can do little or nothing, and they have to do it among people who always look great - if they social dance; if they don't, their learning time increases.

Then there's a lot of pressure of performing with and for somebody who's usually of the opposite sex (this applies also to follows).

It takes a lot (internally) before feeling comfortable enough to "simply enjoy".

Playing an instrument or practicing an individual sport doesn't have such pressures.


The dance coach I knew refused to video his students until they had reached a certain level of competence, because if it was too soon they'd be horrified at how they looked dancing and would quit.

Video is a brutal but effective teacher for those who are not easily discouraged.


Swing/lindy, west coast swing, waltz maybe. But it takes at least a year to become a good salsa dancer and Argentine tango even longer. The difference in these dances is the level of coupling (no pun intended) between the lead and follower. In Argentine tango both dancers meld into one moving unit and the brain has to learn how to do that.


It's unclear what the parent intends with "competent", and also not clear what "weekly" means (once a week? three times? daily?).

I've been an amateur dancer for years, and definitely, for what I personally intend for "competent", it takes 2/3 years at least, with multiple times per week of practice, a few workshops every year etc.etc.

There's certainly some people who dance pretty much daily and gets good in less than an year, some people with background in physical activities (sports or arts) who also get good quickly... but they're exceptions.


I assume by competent he means knowing the steps, how to lead or follow, and other basics. Kind of like how you can learn how to move the pieces in chess and learn basic strategy in a few months. You can get good enough to be better than 95+% of the population. You may set the bar for "competence" higher, but it's not a facially crazy assertion. That said my dance knowledge ends with a box step and I would definitely not call myself competent.


It depends on what you consider good, but generally it is possible to become a a proficient enough salsa dancer in maybe 2 or 3 month, if you are keen and work on it. Importantly, many (most) salsa courses focus too much on moves and not enough on musicality and the basics (also due to student demand). I would argue you can have great fun with the basic food work and 2-3 moves, and I know that most followers really enjoy the dance even if the vocabulary is limited, as long as there is rhythm. This applies to Salsa in general, but LA/linear is more focused on moves and Cuban more on musicality I would say.


Well I'd guess stress is inherent to most competition, because of the win/lose outcome.

I'm sure that's not always a net negative, but I can say it hurt my dancing during the few times I've tried it competitively.


Here are just a few examples of sports that require continuous attention from your entire body in response to an external stimulus:

Snowboarding, downhill skiing, mountain biking, and any martial art. These are from personal experience, I’m sure there are plenty of other examples.

Even weight training, which is an experimental group in this article, when done properly, requires high levels of neuro-muscular coordination and development. I am always weary of studies that evaluate “strength training” because there are so many different approaches with wildly different outcomes. Let’s just say that a max effort squat by an athlete with around two years of proper training emphasizing technique requires a hell of a lot more coordination than busting a move on the dance floor. I’ve been weight training for 15 years and I still feel like I am learning something new every time I get under the bar with the right mindset. The mindset part is key, because if you are just going through the motions then you’re not developing new skills. But I would bet a lot of money that top level strength athletes would say that their form is far from “perfect” and that this the area that affords the biggest opportunity for improvement.

This is the part where I’m going to be brash. Unless you tell me exactly what defines a strength training regimen in your study, I will assume it’s something along the lines of curls and lunges done with tiny dumbbells over a large amount of reps. Especially if your study calls it “repetitive”. There’s nothing repetitive about proper strength training. Every rep that’s done mindfully affords a unique learning opportunity.

Sports simply too complex to categorize in simple terms like “dancing” or “resistance training”. In the context of experimental design, our definitions have to be much more precise.

Having said all that, this is how I interpret this article: “Learning complex motor skills that require high levels of attention is better for the brain than doing 100 curls with 3 lb dumbbells.” And my response to that is “no shit”.


Have you tried dancing? Given you have found so much depth in "simple" movements like barbell exercises, do you think it is reasonable to assume that every single move in dance (of which there are countless) would all have equivalent depth? What happens when you start linking moves - you then get a combinatorial explosion of compound movements to practice.

I recently took up dancing to improve my fight game. I went in thinking it would just be a fun/different way of working on footwork, I was quickly amazed how it is very different to most the other sports I've tried.

Someone else mentioned musical instruments on this HN post - I think that might be it. Dancing is a musical instrument where you trade sound for expressivity in your body. So suddenly you've taken a sport and you have layered rhythm and musicality on top of it - and your movements are coupled to your understanding of those.

That's quite deep, I guess at high level boxing you get similar concepts without the music element (ideas of tempo and upsetting people's tempo).

I think my biggest value I took away from dancing was learning a new energy to take to sports. Whatever you do in dancing, it needs to look smooth and soft - that is the name of the game. But there is a stiffness and explosiveness I take to most my sports and learning to apply softness has been valuable. After all most of the greatest all time athletes have an easiness about their techniques which I guess correlates to efficiency.

I think I agree with your overall point on your post - if you sleep on any activity you won't get much value from it, the corollary being that if you go deep on something you will find lots of value in it. I guess my specific reply to you was "don't sleep on dancing"


The control group was doing the following:

> Each session included three different units: endurance training, strength-endurance training and flexibility training. Each unit lasted 20 minutes. The endurance training was performed on bicycle ergometers with the intensity adjusted to the individual training heart frequency. The strength-endurance unit implied training with equipment such as barbells, rubber bands, Redondo balls, gymnastic sticks and fitness balls. We avoided combined arm and leg movements in order to keep coordinative demands low.

So ya, they did try and keep coordinative movement to a minimum by avoiding full body movements. That said, I'm not convinced that that any weightlifting, which can be administered to elderly people, would ever reach the coordinative demand and sensory/cognitive levels that dance does.

Also, something that doesn't improves an elderly's brain plasticity doesn't mean that weight lifting or other more repetitive form of exercise are not beneficial in any other way. Brain plasticity is not the be all and end all of health. I think strength training has an already well established level of other health benefits, brain plasticity might not be one though.


> Every rep that’s done mindfully affords a unique learning opportunity.

Could you suggest a source on this? One that presents this sort of approach to resistance training, ideally for relative newcomers?


Check out Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore.


I don't know why this comment got downvoted. I personally thing there is so much truth in it.

I practice Olympic lifting (total beginner) and I have to concentrate so much during exercises. Take for instance the snatch movement [1] which is my personal favorite and one of the hardest (in my opinion)

Also I find weightlifting very addictive: when you do the movement successfully is very rewarding. When you get it wrong you can't wait to try again next time

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqWYvGDIRwE


Okay, but how much you find it addictive, and how much you feel you need to concentrate doesn't mean it'll improve brain plasticity in elderly people. In this study, they did a form of strength training and it didn't improve brain plasticity nearly as dance.

So I mean, it's hard to have someone just come in and say: "nope the data is wrong my opinion of this activity I am biased towards as I practice it myself is right", and not be somewhat skeptical. Yes, this is a small preliminary study, maybe the type of strength training was responsible for the failings, etc. But it's still much more substantial then someone's opinion.


Dance certainly helped my basketball (when I played) but basketball did not help my dance.


I've attended a workshop of a world-known dancer. They were saying that some dancers who got good quickly, were sports people prior to dancing.

I personally support this theory; ultimately, in a very basic form, both dance and sport are grounded on physical coordination.


I think there are several aspects to this. First good athletes often have very good body awareness, but also and this is quite important as well, they are used to working and practicing with only seeing small immediate gains. In my experience many people who take up dancing see very experienced dancers and expect they will be able to do this after one or two courses. They then get frustrated, when they discover it's difficult and simply give up.


Thanks for the analogy. I feel that dance would be a great form of exercise for my kids(6m and 4f). Additionally gaining a lot of body awareness that can be useful through many areas in life. But I don't like how much emphasis is there on pointe (in ballet). It seems counter productive.


I'm a dancer as well and this is spot on. Thanks for putting it into words! Even if you do it competitively, though, the analogy still holds. But then it becomes both that and a sport!


I don't dance, but (when fencing) I've been told that fencing scratches a similar itch to some forms of dancing (apparently). You are also acting for the referee too, thinking about it.


> It is not like playing a sport, except perhaps if you do it competitively :-)

Or if you're into hi-tech trance or frenchcore ;)


This is a profound comment. Thank you.


Sounds a lot like jiu jitsu, which I find to be an amazing workout both mentally and physically.


Do you seriously not think that playing a sport requires control of your entire body? Have you ever tried to actively improve at a sport? Everything from basketball to golf is fine muscle control from the lowest to highest levels.

Some people cant see their own bias I guess. :)


Looks like you're just as caught up in your own bias as everyone else though :)

Not sure why you jumped to the conclusion that someone saying "X is not like playing a sport" is a claim that "sports are trivially easy compared to X". I don't think the parent comment was claiming that at all, just that they're different, namely that dance is not inherently competitive.


It’s pretty obvious that the parent post isn’t saying that dance is different in that it’s not inherently competitive, but rather that sports have to be done at a competitive level to match the physical requirements of dance. And I strongly disagree with that sentiment. My claim is that sports done with deliberate practice aimed at improving technique are just like dance done with deliberate practice aimed at improving technique.


He’s describing it as a musical instrument. I think that’s a very good comparison, and is indeed not related to other sports.


I think it's easier to be less aware of your entire body while practicing for other sports.

As someone who plays basketball and tennis, it takes a lot of focus to pay attention to my whole body for an entire practice session (vs. just a single part that I'm trying to improve). Most of the time, if I don't explicitly try to pay attention, I just use muscle memory and try to get into "the zone".

In tennis for example, I only need to pay maximal attention when learning a stroke (although of course it's beneficial to pay attention to every body part when just regularly playing - it's not necessary, and certainly something that a lot of recreational players don't do). Whereas with dance, it's required that you pay attention to your entire body for the entire practice session to memorize a choreography.

I think that's the difference that's important for this paper. If my elderly dad were to play basketball, he might rely on muscle memory. Whereas, if his nursing home taught dance classes, he would definitively have to pay attention to all of his body parts.


My experience is different. In both sports and dances, I've always been asked/required to pay attention to the entire body. For example, in climbing, it's a mechanical necessity, while in table tennis, it's required for efficiency and power.


> Do you seriously not think that playing a sport requires control of your entire body? Have you ever tried to actively improve at a sport? Everything from basketball to golf is fine muscle control from the lowest to highest levels.

I want you to read this entire sentence, including the part after "except". I want you to tell me what you think that last clause means.

> It is not like playing a sport, except perhaps if you do it competitively

Do you think there is perhaps the slightest chance that they did not intend to say that "playing a sport does not require control of your entire body"?

Is there even a tiny possibility that they said that dancing non-competitively is not like playing a sport, perhaps because they are including competition in the definition of sport?

> Some people cant see their own bias I guess. :)

Agreed.


    it == dancing && it != sport
    dancing.entails(entire_body)
    sport.entails(entire_body)
Clearer now?


PR comments: - is this some kind of Shrodinger's "it", the second check is irrelevant - Needs indentation


If the postulated basis is correct and acts on a continuum, it wouldn't be a huge leap to think that doing physically challenging outdoor sports that require a high degree of reaction to constantly-changing surroundings would be even better than dancing. Sounds like a case for skiing, mountain biking, climbing, surfing, whitewater kayaking, etc.


Don't forget martial arts. I've had good experiences from teaching Wing Chun to students who practiced dancing and/or (somewhat surprisingly in this context) Yoga before. What dancing and martial arts have in common more than the rest of your list is creativity and two minds working together.


Absolutely agree. Before everything shut down I used to practice yoga at a school here in Brooklyn that was very physically demanding and attracted a lot of more advanced practitioners. Most of the advanced students had long histories with dance or martial arts (or both). All of these arts teach increased awareness both physically and mentally, challenges your proprioception, and surprises the body with creative movement.

I personally had been looking for a place to practice a martial art to add to my yoga practice, but then covid hit and the city shut down. Hopefully after all this is over though.


I'm far from objective, having practiced and taught Wing Chun for more than 25 years; but from the martial arts I've been in contact with, WC excels at teaching physical and emotional awareness.

Cuts both ways, I've been looking for oppurtunities to teach but people are so nervous and spinning now that it's mostly impossible to reach through.


I didn't read the paper in depth. Is the benefit of dancing from having to remember a series of steps in addition to being physically active?

Just asking because a lot of martial arts forms require remembering dozens or even hundreds of specific movements in a specific order.


Well if you know anyone in New York I’d be happy to take a recommendation for a WC teacher. I tested positive for the sars-cov-2 antibodies already, so I’m not as worried about being around people at this point of the pandemic (within reason).


Go for it!

Not personally, but I have a rough idea by now about who knows what out there.

This looks like a good start to me:

https://sifuchowwingchun.com/


Thanks!


I agree with you, in my experience teaching salsa students who had martial arts experience had very good body control and often did much better than others.

However one aspect that is missing in martial arts or yoga is musicality, i.e. in addition to synchronising with your own body and a partner you also need to synchronise to the music. This is one aspect that some of the aforementioned students struggled with, if they did not have previous other experience with music.


“In our view, the more pronounced effects of dancing on the human brain can be explained by the fact that dancing promotes a large number of processes at the same time: spatial orientation, movement coordination, balance, endurance, interaction and communication.”

That means I'm golden with skateboarding as well; fantastic.


Sound like soccer and other teams sports are also perfect. Sucks that I'm terrible at pretty much all of them...


If we are looking at brain effects, the advantages must outweigh the risk of brain injury inherent to the activity. Playing football might help brain plasticity but at considerable risk of brain injuries. Most all the team sports (soccer, lacrosse, hockey etc) have varying degrees of associated brain injury risks, but not dance or other non-competitive sports. At lease when dance (or rock climbing) is competitive the competitors do not share a movement space and so don't knock heads.


There's always volleyball, where competitors don't share the playing space.


How about gymnastics?


absolutely. Physical therapists often prescribe gymnastics for kids after they “graduate” from more intense PT.


I would disagree, dance requires an intimate letting go, while sports is a more mechanical shutting down. Dance is a sort of trance, and requires alot of letting go. Sports has a goal, has focus, its very “in the head” (exceptions do exist ala japanese arts, martial arts comes close but not as it is largely implemented in the west.)

Not saying no brain plasticity work takes place, but dance has an active emotional element, a tenderness, which i dont see sports really fulfilling.


> I would disagree, dance requires an intimate letting go, while sports is a more mechanical shutting down. Dance is a sort of trance, and requires alot of letting go.

This is very dance specific (almost anything you can say about dancing will be - since different dances can be as different from each other as curling is from powerlifting).

I've been dancing Argentine tango for many years (have also taught it) and, for me, it's very focused and very "in the head" activity. No one could tell from outside, though.


I took-up Argentine Tango after several years of a debillitating back and neurological problem. I'd been going to physios, chiropracters and an Alexander therapist for a long time with no results but as soon as I began to learn tango, along with a regular exercise programme, the problem cleared-up. Even better, my new tango social scene soon became a major source of web dev clients.


I'm so glad every time I hear about someone discovering and enjoying tango!

Nice to hear that tango helped your back, although I'm a bit surprised as I've found that I need a some back exercise to relieve the stiffness that I get from dancing (although this happens only when dancing for multiple hours a day for several days, as you do on festivals).


Like you, my judgement was very subjective .. the dancing i had in mind was “for fun”, rather than a performance.

How do you feel about the difference between dancing to have fun and dancing to preform or teach? How big is that difference would you say?


I dance social tango (as do the vast majority of tango dancers) so, except for teaching, all of my dancing is "for fun".

For some background - tango is an improvisational partner dance (no choreography), danced together with other couples on the floor (it can get very crowded). One person - usually the man - leads, the other person - usually the woman - follows (I'm a leader).

Teaching is pretty different from just dancing for fun. Not so much in that there is less thinking but because I think of different things. When dancing for fun, I mostly think about:

1) The music and how to interpret it by leading certain steps or moves and by varying the speed and the energy of our dancing.

2) The position of my partner - her orientation and offset in relation to me, which leg does she currently have her weight on, the amount of momentum in her movement, etc.

3) The emotion of my partner - does the embrace feel comfortable to her, is she barely keeping up with the steps, is she in the mood for something more technically demanding or does she seem happy dancing simple musically appropriate stuff in a snugly embrace.

4) The situation on the dance floor - how crowded it is, is there any available space that I can move into, where is my back turned to, so that I can see what's going on around me and protect my partner from rubbing against other dancers (these two are sometimes in opposition, so you often need to do a lot of turns).

There is no talking during the dance - all of this is felt through the embrace.

When teaching, the focus shifts:

1) I need to consciously think and verbalize my own movement in much more detail, as that part is somewhat automatic when I dance socially but needs to be explained now.

2) There is much more focus on what my partner did wrong, instead of seamlessly adjusting the dance to her "mistakes".

3) I don't put that much focus on interpreting the music creatively, but instead try to bring the concept I'm currently teaching into the dance in several different ways.

As for performances, I barely did any (only demonstration dances after the class, and absolutely no competition performances) so I can only say that, due to all eyes being on me and my partner, the thinking intensifies :) But ideally it wouldn't, except for purposefully putting the lesson material into the dance - it is a demonstration after all.

I also want to point out that tango is very personal and other people might not approach it in as analytical fashion. Especially the followers - some of this stuff does not apply to them at all and their focus is elsewhere.


Dance is a sort of trance, and requires alot of letting go

I know what you mean, also when you talk about that certain tenderness, I have experienced that, and I can get that same thing out of sports like climbing/bmx/snowboarding. Take climbing: slowly reaching for a difficult hold you've never touched before, where you carefully lay your fingers on it, just touching it at first to make sure it'll actually hold you - and if not a fall an injury is certainly in there - while the rest of your body is at one wth the rock. That's basically the same for me. Or take snowboarding, just surfing a gentle slope, all alone while a snow shower slowly becomes heavier. There's no real goal there, focus fades, it's just you going with the flow. And getting that trance-like feeling really only works if you let go of certain natural fears.


A well executed boulder can often seem indistinguishable from dance. So many sports have a natural flow and tempo (the zone), that once you tap into, you really do feel one with the sport.

Sadly, the feeling can be fickle mistress and hard to tap into.


The trance like aspects aren't really what it's about with dance. Sports/martial arts/yogas are great, but the whole point of TFA is that dance is different. The others have all sorts of strengths, so it's a little puzzling to me why the argument would be made "yeah but sports too!" Nobody's criticizing sports here, and the implicit argument here that "naah, dance can't be special" is not based on fact and kind of off-topic.

Having studied a little modern dance, being a sw dev and bicycler, lifelong musician, and a pilates fanatic -- dance absolutely has more for the brain/body/emotional/spiritual connection. It's kind of the whole deal and it is unique this way.


I can imagine sports tapping into that kind of potential .. i get you


Depends how you sport. In London, my daily 15km cycle to work would have me constantly starting and stopping, sprinting small hills, dodging tourists, racing fellow bikers, brushing cars, and basically being alert at all times for any and all dangers (this was before the mass cycle lanes). There was a weird adrenaline induced rhythm to it that would grant me both physical and mental relief everyday that I had somehow made it to work without dying.

Since I've moved to the countryside; boring endless gentle hills, breathtakingly stunning scenery that offers no challenges, and my brain basically goes into autopilot. I get to work feeling physically fulfilled but mentally drained.


https://books.google.ru/books?id=V8_Saizq_88C&pg=PA119&lpg=P...

"...Pele had scored an unbelievable six goals while in a kind of trance-like state..."

Pele often played in trance-like state, feeling he can get through his opponents.


That's very poetic.

And entirely ungrounded.


The expression with respect to sports and thinking: "If you're thinking you're sinking." Has anyone on this site ever actually played a sport long enough to get good at it? Being good at most time sensitive tasks involves entering a flow state. You aren't thinking in the traditional sense.


One benefit dance has is being low risk, especially for someone that might be in a partially compromised state.


I'd qualify using "lower" rather than "low". There's actually plenty of injury also in dancing, in particular, to knees and backs.


Yeah, I wonder if they compared dancing to highly dynamic (non repetitive) sports, then would the results be different.

Soccer for instance, demands continuous concentration and is as taxing mentally as it is physically, esp. in certain positions. This seems to be similarly true with sports like hockey, basketball, tennis, etc. Not sure how much of it applies to stop-start sports like baseball, cricket and american football.

Climbing requires deliberate control over muscles, breathing, coordination and concentration, in manner that I haven't seen in any physical activity.

That being said, looking at some of the dancers I know, dancing can be incredibly physically taxing on its own.


basketball, in normal times. it's easily as engaging and much more accessible relative to those activities, which all require specialized equipment and significant travel for most people.

(as the lakers-magic scrimmage game is on in the background... thank goodness the nba is back at least)


For what is worth. Boxing (without actually being hit) and climbing is practiced as therapy for Parkinson's patients. Probably because they require a lot emphasis on coordination and body awareness in general.


I love indoor climbing, really makes physical exercize the opposite of boring.


Absolutely. I highly recommend going outdoor climbing: the mental aspect is even more intense. A lot of the time is spent route reading and figuring out safety gear, which are mostly cerebral.


Same here. I tell friends climbing is a bit like random yoga with a bunch of problem solving thrown it. Plus it literally self selects for people who you would put your life into their hands.


I'd add trail running to that lisyy


I was thinking dodgeball, too.


This feels like common sense to me.

The dance they describe isn't just physical movement, it's also staying within a group movement which requires both reading where "the group" is and giving space to individual differences.

Obviously the focus here is on exercise but I would be curious if a less physically demanding but similarly grouped activity would have similar effects on brain function. I suspect that linking physicality and social coordination is key. We are both brains and bodies and neglecting either is unhealthy in the long term.


I wonder if the same effect is even stronger for many competitive sports, where the brain-muscle loop includes a more complex modeling of competing agents vs cooperative ones as in dance. Something like basketball is anti-inductive; falling into an easy pattern will be immediately exploited by the other team in a way that isn't prevented in dance.


I can definitely see this. I have very mild Cerebral Palsy. I can run and end up in the middle of the pack in most races and sometimes in the top 3 or four for my age group (pre-Covid). I even taught fitness classes about a decade ago.

But trying to learn a dance move or take someone else’s choreography heavy exercise class was like trying to understand a second language when you are first learning it. I had to translate it to my “native language” and it took much longer for it to click even when I could physically do it.

It was more mentally taxing than studying for any test or anything I had to do as a developer.


This is interesting. Once you had a set of moves 'down', could you execute them accurately on a pretty consistent basis? At that point... I know dancing requires focus, but once learned was it still more mentally taxing/draining than other well-rehearsed activities?


I taught a lot of different formats but the two that required any level of choreography even though I was more drill and athletic focused were step and cardio kickboxing (this was a decade ago).

I had a “bank” of 32 and 64 count combinations that I could just throw together on the fly and teaching a class became like driving. Once I memorized them and trained my body how to do them (my cp affects my left foot slightly and my left hand a lot) it was easy.

The other part is that I naturally have no rhythm. I could only teach to songs with heavy, consistent beats. You can buy premixed 32 count music but I ended up mixing my own using a program called Audacity that Adobe bought and turned into Audition.

Even then the only way I could mix music is by turning off the sound once I got near the mix point and mixing based on the waveforms.


Hum... Now this makes me wonder if VR games could achieve a similar effect, such as Beat Saber. Since VR games could combine physical and mental activity into one.


I do believe that VR absolutely has potential to shake this up. VR games have a physicality to them that is unmatched in any other sort of computer game.

I played ping pong on VR the other day, and it was amazing! I've played a bunch of ping pong in real life, and the physics in VR - along with the feedback in the controller - felt almost exactly life-like. It was truly a mind-blowing experience. It made me realize though that we're really at the tip of the iceberg in terms of what kinds of things we could do with VR. Up until now, the games we could play had the limit of only taking a few key presses and mouse motion as input. Suddenly we're now afforded the entire realm of physical motion. Not to hype it up too much, but the possibilities feel practically endless.


My guess is yes. The only issue right now is that sweating with a headset on doesn't feel great.



As a guy who's played way way too much DDR, it's a fantastic workout but it also gets very monotonous once you've figured out all the tricks and patterns. (Monotonous in terms of novelty, mind you - it's still fun!) The difference from _real_ dance is that you're dancing with a partner who is continually thinking of new moves.


I loved DDR but you’re right it definitely gets stale once you’ve memorized all of the patterns. But I don’t think it would be terribly difficult to alter DDR to “randomize” different sections of the dances. Maybe have three or four choreographed patterns possible for each section of the song and every time you play the song the dance is a randomized combination of those possible patterns.


I am planning a 1 on 1 battle mode in VRWorkout [1] where players have to challenge each other with exercises. I am still in the design phase but it should be a way to get a competitve fitness challenge.

[1] https://vrworkout.at


We don't know where DDR lies on the scale of brain plasticity since it wasn't tested but good points you make. In my own opinion I feel DDR would be better than repetitive physical exercise but not as good as dance.


It wouldn't surprise me if some of the effect comes from two minds working together. Working with a computer is...different.


I don't feel like the people in the study were pair dancing . Or improvising. They were learning dance in a classroom setting. " Each block comprised the teaching of choreographies of five different genres: line dance, jazz dance, rock ‘n’ roll, Latin-American dance and square dance "


Student/teacher is more or less the same thing.


I'd be inclined to think beatsabre is repetitive. Dance often involves moving your body in ways you haven't before or rarely do whilst beatsabre is pretty much different variations of the same move.

I believe activating a relatively new pathways is vastly different to activating a relatively old one in terms of brain plasticity; which is why I don't think there is much promise with this particular game.

Edit: when I say new and old pathway I really mean one that has been activated relatively little versus one that has been activated considerably more.


Well, to be fair, I’ve danced quite a bit. Unless you’re actively trying, it’s quite easy to fall into a groove where you’re just doing the same things over and over again to every song.

There’s probably more variation with dancing (in general) than some dance games but I do want to say, it’s possible to fall into a rut within dancing.


That's true, though they didn't simply have people dance. They had people learn different dance coreograhies and perform them.


I can totally see your point. Which makes me wonder... Is dance superior to repetitive exercise for seasoned dancers, or are they actually the same thing?


There are many kinds of dance and styles. I guess the main ways to divide could be a) Partner dance b) Group dance, and a') Choreography b') Improvisation.

Even for seasoned dancers there is a lot to offer in all of those. In partner dance you have to watch and adapt to your partner all the time (no matter the skill level). In choreography you of course have to learn new programs and execute them well (displaying the desired artistic expression), in improvisation you have to come up with things on the fly.

Unless you get stuck in an old routine (same old choreography, not doing anything new, etc.), there is almost endless variation and learning of new tricks and nuances.


Thanks for the info. In that case I guess we can only infer that dance is better than repetitive exercise providing you are not banging out the same routines over and over. (In which case it is arguably repetitive exercise itself)

This aligns much better with my view that creating and accessing relatively new/rarely used pathways is the mechanism that keeps our brains agile.


You missed solo dance as c). Lots of hip hop is solo or semi solo, as are things like solo Charleston.


I'm not sure it's the repetitiveness of the physical activity that is the issue, though could be. The way I'm interpreting it, I read it as you need to combine physical activity with sensory and cognitive tasks. Which dance provides. Beat Saber is repetitive in the physical movement, but constantly challenges you in the sensory and cognitive department.


I do think your point that the physical repetitiveness isn't the only factor is correct, however I believe it is the main driver.

Almost all physically repetitive exercises combine sensory and cognitive tasks to varying extents.

I would also argue that learning and implementing new movements is a much more diverse task cognitively than getting better at beatsabre.


I can see learning dance coreographies still being better than Beat Saber for sure. I just think a lot of normally suggested activities don't really involve sensory and cognitive aspects, like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming. So compared to those, I could see something like Beat Saber possibly having better success, which is where I feel it becomes interesting, because most people would naturally assume that picking up a game like Beat Saber wouldn't be any good and it be best you'd start swimming.


Beat Saber does have a very large amount of patterns, though. If you restrict yourself to the best designed maps, you're likely to find a unique feel to each. It does feel a lot like dancing, although, yes, it's a style of dancing that benefits from your body already knowing the basic positions.

I seem to recall some of the best custom mappers are specifically into dancing/choreography, but don't quote me on this; I don't know how to validate this information (maybe someone from the community will read this and be able to confirm).


I would like to point out we're not questioning whether repetitive activity enhances plasticity but if dancing is better.

Also when the study says dance they mean learning a new dance. If you were to do variations of the same dance over and over this study doesn't prove you would also get the benefits. I'd imagine if we did study it that case would show results very similar to the benefits from repetitive activity.


Beat Saber is great but I find that Audica and Synth Rider feel more like dancing than Beat Saber. In all those games you really need to play at the higher levels for them to be interesting.

I don't understand the comments that say the games are repetitive. In my experience most dance is repetitive. You practice certain moves and then that's it. Repeat those moves.


Not VR, but "Just Dance", a video game series teaches actual dance moves.


I like to imagine that when history looks back on the crumbling rubble of the 21st century, Beat Saber will be recognized as our crowning achievement.


Did both group contain similar amount of people who genuinely enjoyed the activity? An pretty old finding with physical exercise is that health benefits primarily only comes into effect in people who actually enjoy the activity. Two people doing the same mechanical physical motion get different health benefit if one enjoy it and the other disliked it (can't cite the exact study but remember findings in both human as well as animal studies, and the implied cause is that one trigger stress hormones while the other trigger growth).

It would not surprise me if the dance group did better than the fitness training simply because the dance members enjoyed dancing more than the fitness members enjoyed fitness training, through I might be biased as I am not one who enjoy fitness training at all.


I mean, even if the effect is significant, it might just come down to the fact that for one person the activity alleviates stress and for the other it does the opposite. Sure, the physical activity is good for circulation and cardio/strength will vary a lot, but I imagine most of the mood-altering aspects and impact on things like GABA/cortisol/glutamate are largely dependent on whether someone is genuinely enjoying themselves, just ok with it, or find it to be a chore.


There is parsimony between recent interest in fasting for health and the fact that so many cultures & religions prescribe ritual fasts. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism...

That doesn't mean traditions and beliefs are necessarily true, but they didn't evolve randomly either. Successful memes serve a purpose, and that can be rational outside of cultural rationality.

Dance seems similar. It's something most cultures do... especially when they're being especially cultural. It may even go deeper. Dancing and music are kind of wired into us, possibly adjacent to speech. Babies will dance to music.

I wouldn't be surprised if science confirms that dance is good.


TL;DR: it seems trivially true that non-scientific, traditional knowledge can be a powerful source of understanding, especially when combined judiciously with science.

> That doesn't mean traditions and beliefs are necessarily true, but they didn't evolve randomly either. Successful memes serve a purpose, and that can be rational outside of cultural rationality.

The belief that no knowledge exists outside of the scientific establishment is one of the biggest weaknesses of the center-left technocratic memeplex (of which I'm proudly a part). It leads not only to the myopia of believing that your opponents don't deserve a hearing because they're "anti-science" (for ever more creative interpretations of science..), but also to unforced errors from the ability to reason about uncertainty, like <everything our public health authorities have done during the pandemic>.

I believe that the scientific method is the greatest engine for rapid, high-quality knowledge generation in human history, and consider its manifestation in the scientific establishment to be one of the crowning achievements of humanity. But this doesn't make its manifestation perfect: as with all human systems, it's composed of people who are not immune to pettiness, narrow-minded, selfishness, and even occasionally stupidity. And as with all institutions, the human flaws of its constituents are magnified 1000-fold due to the challenges of incentive design and modeling large systems. Please note, this is decidedly _not_ a criticism of scientists beyond "they're human"; I wouldn't be surprised if the average scientist was well below the median for all of the negative qualities I described. It's just an acknowledgement that they're human, they have flaws, and those flaws affect how science is produced.

Proper science is vastly superior in efficiency and confidence to many other forms of epistemology, but the imperfection of the scientific establishment means that it occasionally mishandles or abdicates responsibility for certain whole sections of knowledge-space. In these situations, reasoning under uncertainty requires cautiously looking at other sources of knowledge; they may be "lower-quality" in many ways than the scientific method, but they're better than simply assuming that absence of evidence = evidence of absence.

When I was younger, I had this insight in the context of ayahuasca rituals while in Peru (I had the insight _before_ the ritual, to be clear haha). The scientific community had abdicated its responsibility to study the potential of psychedelics for improving mental health; how else to interpret shaman guiding an ayahuasca ritual than as an analogue of a therapist[1] trained in psychedelic therapy, whose expertise is shaped not through RCTs but centuries of trial and error? The fact that the West is taking slow, halting steps towards studying psychedelic therapy 70 years after its popularization here is pretty damning, IMO: as somebody who treated science as a valuable but flawed source of knowledge, I've been a happy user of LSD for years, and consider it an immensely helpful tool for mental health.

There are a million examples of this if you stop and think about it. Fifty years ago, yoga and meditation made you a kook; the scientific establishment started studying it and now, it's weird among some circles not to regularly do yoga and meditate. This is again something you can learn easily through examining "unscientific" tradition + self-experimentation, with an appropriate model of the downside risks.

[1] I'm using intentionally clinical language here to make the comparison clear, though I'm aware that it's a little reductive to ignore the spiritual dimension most shamans would describe their work as having.


Samzdat has an absolutely excellent article on the distinctions between state-level (often technocratic) knowledge and on-the-ground knowledge, and the difficulties of communicating between the two and acting on them. It's part of a discussion of the book Seeing Like A State. I think you'd find it stimulating.

https://samzdat.com/2017/05/22/man-as-a-rationalist-animal/


I've read this post, and Seeing Like a State after SSC's review of it (thank you for the reference though!). Both of these came after my Peruvian epiphany, but they really helped sharpen my understanding of epistemology. Though my focus here is a little different: instead of focusing on how top-down policy privileges techne over metis due to its legibility[1], I'm primarily interested in how the individual can make better use of metis from outside his bubble. This is the main thing I look for when I travel, and a nine-month, and a 6-continent backpacking trip I took in my early 20s was a really transformative experience for exactly that reason.

[1] The reason I don't focus too much on this aspect is because I've already found it productive to model politics and policy as a natural disasters, or millions of monkeys banging on typewriters: I don't think most humans are capable of what I'd consider critical thinking, and they're certainly not capable of exercising it in large, complex systems. I get that this is a little nihilistic, but in practice it just means being selective about how you choose to spend your time with and not getting too drawn into cases where you can't control it, like politics.


> An extensive pre/post-assessment was performed on the 38 participants (63–80 y)

Mind the n = 38. People already taking the title at face value in this thread.


Sample size is pretty irrelevant on its own.


I thought the "low sample size, checkmate!" without any other analysis was limited to Reddit dilettantes.


Canceled out by the blind acceptance of the headline without reading the article here on HN.


It’s here too, along with betteridge's law and references to the dunning-kruger effect.

Maybe the frequency of these things can be explained by the 80/20 rule, ha.


The HN headline should match the article's. It's missing "in the elderly"


Dancing is one activity I’ve always struggled with. I did musical theater all through school, have gone to dance parties, different music clubs all my life, and I have just always disliked dancing and found it to be tiresome and boring.

I even figured in my early 20s it was one of those things where I had to just keep trying more until I found the right style, but I took adult classes in swing, ballroom, disco, various fitness dance and modern dance and just universally hated it all. I am amazed and wowed by watching professional dancers, but I find the act of doing any kind of dancing for myself is just a deeply mentally disinteresting, grating, boring slog that I can’t get into.


I wonder how kickboxing fairs, done properly it is mentally taxing and one of the highest calorie burning exercises out there (up to 500 calories/30 minutes as measured by HR strap).

The mentally taxing part comes from the complex weight shifting and footwork that is constantly needed, complex combos require sophisticated manipulations of body weight positioning and constant shifting of stances and physical location around the bag.

It is the only cardio-like activity I can stand, except it is way above the cardio zone, HR when active is above 150 (or even 160) and stays there for an entire 3 minute round.


So long as you're not knocking your noggin around. Any contact sport involving blows to the head (even padded blows) is probably more detrimental than any benefit gained.


Is a complex, full-body coordinated accelerated movement like an olympic clean (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clean_and_jerk) considered 'repetitive physical exercise'?

People see a barbell and they think bodybuilding, but there's a minority of weightlifting that involves a degree of complexity that's qualitatively in a different league than, say, bicep curls. I'm curious how it pans out.


Snatches and clean and jerks are certainly more technically involved than any movement you'd see in bodybuilding or powerlifting. You train fewer motor patterns with much higher frequency than other strength sports. It lacks the variation in movement that you'd see in bodybuilding, let alone dance. It's also very rigid, there's no creative element to it. I'd hazard a guess that it's more similar, in terms of brain plasticity, to strength sports than dance.


This is interesting; for the past 4 years as part of my workout I hop in VR for around 60 minutes. I typically play a mix of music while I play games like Space Pirate Trainer (highly movement oriented, my heat-rate stays at workout levels while playing). So I'm basically dancing around to music, dodging incoming fire, returning fire, etc... quite stimulating + athletic with eye/hand tracking etc. Perhaps this is doing more than a fun extra bit that's essentially my cool-down.


The key here is "repetitive". It sounds like the repetitive exercise was the exact same cardio + weights routine every day, excluding any coordinative active, while the dance routines were explicitly varied and sound far more interactive.

I don't know enough about the underlying science to really understand the paper at a glance, but it's not surprising that learning a new skill provides beneficial effects. A neat follow up would be to look at what learning a musical instrument with a lower physical fitness requirement than dance does is relationship to a dance routine. Or even something like birding, that requires a moderate amount of walking with increased skills observing the physical environment.

I think this probably (with low confidence, because of the low N and a high dropout rate) answers the question "is dance better for neuroplasticity than walking on a treadmill and stationary bike + repetitive and uncoordinated floor exercises" with a yes, but I'll bet plenty of other activities surpass the repetitive control group as well.


Isn't this perfectly logical, as dance has more complicated pattern of highly coordinated moves and in addition requires synchronization with the rhythm. I'd be much more interested in comparison of dance and some more complex fitness activity that requires high focus, say juggling the soccer ball or playing the table tennis or even jumping the rope.


Just an anecdote, but I was at a wedding where I talked with a retirement age neurologist. He basically said the same thing. It didn't surprise me that later he and his wife were out on the dance floor start to finish, outlasting most of the 20 year olds, and dancing everything from tango to hip hop. Put a real smile on a lot of people's faces.


As a person who loves to dance, I think there is also a distinction to be made between freestyle and structured dance. I used to make up moves on the spot depending on the music/beats etc and that requires being completely lost into the music and tapping into your instinct - my brain was practically doing nothing else but imagining the moves that would be fun to match the music. Considering the feeling of euphoria when a move turned out well and/or when my partner mimicked or matched then with their own, it had to have significant impact on the brain activity. The highs were truly high without having to involve any drugs.

I'm sure specific-style of dancing also produces plenty of such feelings but the structure/grammer must impose some additional restrictions too. Though it might be a different sort of pleasure to invent something new and see that work well within that framework.


I know this is a stupid question but I'm going to ask it anyway. How do you learn to dance?

Maybe I just have zero natural dance aptitude but ...

I've taken maybe 8 swing dance lessons and 12 salsa lessons and I found them extremely hard and worst part is I felt horrible being so bad at it because it's not fun for the other more skilled students to dance with an unskilled noob. It's that last part that's the most frustrating. One salsa instructor said to expect at least 18 months of lessons before being able to lead. That was before seeing how bad I was at it. Another salsa instructor pretty much just gave up. She didn't want to deal with noobs.

I can jump around to the music at a rave all night. I'm sure I could learn video game dance (DDR or Just Dance) but getting past the point of being a disappointment in two person dance seems really difficult for some reason.


Improving the capability of your brain is a matter of stressing it in the hormetic zone, just like improving the capability of every other organ in your body. Since the brain is the control organ of the nervous system, including motor neurons, it's expected that physical stimulus would produce neural stimulus.

I expect that advanced gymnastics is superior to dance with respect to brain plasticity, but only if the practitioner has already reached a level of adaption sufficient for the training stimulus to be in the hormetic zone. This hypothesis may or may not be correct, but it's certainly testable. If true, one would expect that a competent gymnast would be able to perform as a slightly less competent dancer whereas a competent dancer would have difficulty holding a planche or working a pommel horse.


Two anecdotes from 10+ years argentinian tango dancer.

1. I dance leading part, and I found myself more self-confident in my engineering leader and manager work. Giving team a direction became more organic and easy. I actually had to start restraining myself to motivate people's creativity. It is actually kind of dance move too: stand still and give my follower firm support to decorate her part with small movements with music.

2. One of my fellow partners is playing intellectual games (local franchise of "Jeopardy!" and several others). She says her performance degrades with her progress in tango, because the follower's part in tango is to listen and not to step by her own, but only when and where the leader leads.

I also believe in neuroplasticity and overall positive impact of creating and cohesion of neural links.


It's interesting how they matched the intensity.

Because, in my opinion, dance is a sorta-kinda-like strength endurance training when you exert a modest loaded movement (say, 40%-50% of your bench press' 1RM) for 2-4 repetition and there are tens of these bouts.

In calories spent such resistance exercise may match some endurance exercise but other effects can be dramatically different.

Including, but not limited to, levels and utilization of brain-derived neurotophic factor. While endurance training increase BDNF level long term and modestly, the resistance exercise can effect a sharp 60%-90% increase at the end of training session, then drop to 40% of normal (to the person) level and slow recovery. This indicates overproduction of BDNF and its complete utilization of the body to build neurons everywhere.


I consider dance the intersection of balance, efficiency / energy conservation and probably the abstract root of a lot of activities in life. Anything can be a chore, or an effort, but if you make it into a dance like action.. it becomes both easy and joyful. And it's also reaching social boundaries.. if you think work as a set of concurrent changes driven by agents.. dancing is basically the lowest energy level for that. Everything flows, momentum conserved, impedance free.. and surprisingly people are very happy seeing and living that way.

All that said... i'm not surprised it has a lot of leverage in our brain.


As a data analyst, I once took an introductory class to modern dance. 5 sessions during one week. I though I was trained, I did calystecnics and yoga.

The class included "floor work" similar but no limited to [1].

It was hard. I received a lot of feed back from the instructor, but of course I didn't achieve that amount of grace.

Very worth trying if you want to experience learning something new and challenging.

Incidentally, this is one area where there are many more females than males. 2¢.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jHrR8vy3OM


My grandma used to go dancing at the VFW every weekend up until I think shortly after her 95th birthday. She fell at a dance and broke her arm. She had lived on her own until then, but moved to a nursing home while her arm healed and then decided to just stay after she got better.

Her memory has definitely gone downhill since she moved there, which could just be age. But I also feel like the physical activity and social aspect of always going out to dance helped keep her going longer than she otherwise would have.

Hard to say I guess.


Dancing isn't easy for folks who are rhythm-challenged like me.

Try the Jerusamela on for size. Warning: make sure the vase, and precious items in the living room are packed away before you practise.

Some attempts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePuGjRRin3c

Official video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCZVL_8D048


I know it's off-topic but Tik-tok is really refreshing as a social network/entertainment thing to me. Lots of honest (even though the app encourages use of video effects) stuff on it, especially if you upvote things from time to time. User-generated content but haven't yet seen facebook outrage porn or twitter feud war ; lots of good vibe.

edit: my feed is filled with people with goth make up mimicking lyrics or movie dialogues, skate boarding tricks, contemporary dancers and weird jokers.


And all data funneled to the CCP.


There was a strong article in an Australian magazine claiming that ballet was one of the strongest preventative measures against dementia, and this lines up with that.


I agree. In case of physical exercise, the mind does not need to apply itself. But in case of dance, you have to think about your next move. But sports can surely be a money earner for many. source: https://wpbizblog.com/how-to-start-a-sports-blog/


Certain folk dances are quite a lot of exercise. Some likely descend from a ritualized exercise / demonstration, like the Ukrainian "gopak". Just estimate the level of physical fitness which allows to dance like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvD21OntHgI


Novel behavior could increase plasticity. Whether that’s novel exercise, new dances, or brushing your teeth with the opposite hand.


The novelty is the important part IMHO


Dance (at least dancing with a partner) is also very much a social activity, and social activity has very good effects on cognition.


I am rhythm challenged, so for me martial arts have been mentally stimulating like improv jazz on a Go board. In sparring you can follow muscle memory to build a dynamic procedure based on your opponents' actions or reactions. You quickly learn the "dance" and when to change tempo because the alternative is pain or discomfort.


This makes me wonder about getting “lost in the music” type dancing on your own where you connect your physical movement and it becomes intuitive. I’ve done lots of club kid to slam dancing on my own and formal dancing and the headspace is so different but the former was always more intellectually satisfying and aerobic for me


Nice, been 'raving' for years ;)


Offsets the damage of XTC usage a bit ;-)


This probably also translates to martial arts as that is also moving in complex patterns.


I am extraordinarily bad at dancing. You can get traumatized for life watching me dance. Can someone please suggest online videos you have found useful.


Dancing is a sport. I bet that it's the same with other sports that require a lot of body control and coordination (being your own puppet master).


I wonder how Beat Saber fairs... I'm being dead serious. Since the gyms have closed it's become my new passion and i love it.


Weight lifting is better for making you more attractive and confident. If you are in good shape men and women will both take notice. Not everything's about squeezing out that last IQ point. I enjoy dancing, don't get me wrong, but weightlifting is the obvious choose when it comes to quality of life improvement. I used to run a lot too, no one gives a shit about your 5 minute mile and no one is impressed by your skinny body. Weightlifting; dudes figured it out 80 years ago.


Does anyone have suggestions on how to learn dancing during a time of social distancing? (i.e any good mooc or video courses?)


Kinda specific, but breakdancing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIDaadRNPpg


I wonder if this would work for Martial Arts too (apologies if someone asked this already).


Really cool. Would love to see this done with Beat Saber or some similar game (e.g. DDR).


Obligatory favorite obscure book that everyone should at least have read a Medium summary of citation:

https://www.amazon.com/Keeping-Together-Time-Dance-History/d...

Super-tiny summary: humans have used coordinated rhythmic movement and the feelings it evokes as an aid to build communities and create efficient synchronized behavior. This behavior may even predated the human separation from other apes, and there is some evidence that certain other modern apes may use this too, though to a more limited degree.

If this is truly such an ancient mechanism (the author's case is not ironclad, but good), it wouldn't be surprising to find connections between "coordinated rhythmic movement" and brain function.


Is yoga approximately the same? What of physical therapy?


What about juggling a soccer ball?


hell yeah! dancing is kick ass.


How about tennis or Pickleball?


Do you have people saved in your phone with the last name “Pickleball” so your phone capitalizes pickleball?


Now that you mention it, yes I do. That explains it.


How about yoga?


Sorry to be a wet blanket, but:

When looking at studies, there are two types of validity to pay attention to, "external" and "internal." Internal is the sort that says: does this study actually test what it claims to? If a study looks in a black box, sees there's no elephant inside, and says "there's no elephant in there! Huzzah, we've proven it's a tiger!", that's an internally invalid study. External validity is about applicability: if I give a dose of abx to a bunch of people with advanced AIDS to treat an infection, and find it doesn't work, it doesn't mean "this abx doesn't work." It means "this abx doesn't work /in this population/. Don't extrapolate it to an immune-competent population."

1. The study begins with what they describe in their registration documents as "healthy elderly." That's a bit kind: "Sixty-two normal volunteers, who responded to a local advertisement, were screened. Subjects with any neurological condition, metallic implants, claustrophobia, tinnitus, BMI ≤30, high blood pressure (systolic≤140 mmHg), diabetes mellitus, intensive physical engagement (more than 1 hour/week) and abnormal performance in a cognitive screening test (MMSE < 27)[32] and a test devoted to depressive symptoms (BDI-II > 13) [33] were excluded." In short, they started with an anomalously healthy population, who likely have a lifetime of exposure to exercise and physical activity. Do the results here extrapolate to the general population? Do they extrapolate to the same degree? It's a decent question mark, considering their results are non-significant in everything except their "looks like false positives" brain volume measures to begin with - even a little bit of "ehh... maybe not so much" takes them into the realm of "no effects", alongside every other measure in the paper. External validity is doubtful here.

2. Internal validity is a bit doubtful too, first for reasons of selection bias. They recruited 62 healthy volunteers; they had 14 dropouts. A 22% dropout rate isn't atrocious, but it's more than enough - if it's not random - to skew a study. Their enrollment figure describes the dropouts as almost entirely pre-randomisation (10/14), but the study description notes that 6 drop-outs were due to failure to achieve frequency of adherence, which clearly had to occur post-randomization, and 2 due to dissatisfaction with group assignment (obviously post-randomization). 6 got seriously ill - I'd love to know in which group, and with what.

3. Their way of controlling for equivalent physical load was to measure heart rate twice. On the one hand, not crazy. On the other hand, if you've ever seen your HR during a workout session, you'll see how noisy that is - and with a sample of a whole 38 pairs, that's a relatively huge amount of noise. Moreover, it doesn't appear that they used that to guide intensity of intervention, just "to control" (which I take to mean, to plug into a multivariate model at some point - except they don't, as they describe the covariates they plug into their model to be age, sex, and intracranial volume for brain volume t-tests) I'm skeptical this is an adequate control - I'd at least have wanted a time-weighted average HR.

3.b. The sports intervention had one effort-controllable component (sport bike), but had 3 different components. It's not at all clear they could capture the effort under the regimen above, especially as the relatively light strength exercise that the elderly tend to tolerate is the place where I'm most suspicious of them failing to capture an effort delta.

4. The differences in brain volume swung in different directions in each group, without making an awful lot of sense (more right cerebellar development in standard exercise group?? So, asymmetrically, the less-coordination-demanding intervention showed more development of the primary coordination center of the brain?). But more generally, looking at supplementary table S3, note that dancing showed improvements in anterior and posterior white matter, and standard exercise in temporal and occipital. The brain isn't that cleanly delineated - to find such statistically strong effects in such broad brushstrokes sets off a red flag for me.

The fact that there was scattered growth *in both groups suggests we're looking at false positives. Not precisely a new problem for this study methodology. Their p-threshold of .001 is considered best-practices (aka, the bare minimum) for cluster-based adjustment of multiple testing in neuroimaging: so that's good. They don't report the p-values on their brain volume testing; table S3 simply notes "p<.001". An actual effect size would be better, but hard to get with cluster-based thresholds - they're sensitive to "any signal, at all, is it there?" but they're shitty at locking down precise volumes.

5. Dance group had lower BDNF plasma at baseline vs. standard exercise (1500 vs. 2100) (p .14), and equal at post (2200 to 2100, p .6). In short, they showed regression to the mean in the dance group. They report this as "the dance group had an increase in plasma BDNF from baseline." Serum levels likewise were not significantly difference pre and post between the two groups (dance went from 35K to 36K, sport went from 30K to 29K). In short, nothing happened. But they hid the "fucking nothing happened" in supplementary table 4, and dressed it up real pretty in the included figure 4.

6. Cognitive outcomes, the only thing that actually matters here: no differences.

7. At least some physical fitness differences? No, none there either.

TL;DR they found nothing, made some misleading figures out of it. There are no perfect studies, but this one just boils down to "found nothing, needed publication."


Funny how HN eats up an n=38 study when it confirms their biases as opposed to when it doesn’t.


Ah yes, dance being the superior exercise, I have to admit my father engrained it into me as a child.


I meant HN’s irresistible catnip being anything that contradicts mainstream conventional wisdom — not dance specifically.


I think HN also has a very strong anti-sports leaning, especially for “traditional” sports.


If something is published, even in the soft sciences, it is always an uphill struggle on HN to criticize the paper.

At the same time one can quote Feynman on social sciences or link to the relevant xkcd. Independent minds ...




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