This is one of my favourite TED talks. Instinctively, those of us who dance and work out know the benefits of moving and exercising. We can feel the effects on our bodies and our well-being! It’s great though when this is backed by a neuroscientist.
In this highly enjoyable and engaging talk, Wendy Suzuki shares her personal story and her experiment on herself, leading to her scientific conclusions.
She starts off asking: ‘What if I told you there was something that you can do right now that would have an immediate, positive benefit for your brain including your mood and your focus? And what if I told you that the same thing could actually last a long time and protect your brain from different conditions like depression, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia? Would you do it? Yes!”
I watched this talk on the airplane, and with an opening like that, it definitely caught my attention.
Yes, of course, we want to have those benefits and to have a healthy brain too. It all adds up to a quality of living, doesn’t it?
I’ll extract some points from the transcript of her speech, and I recommend you listen to her 12 min talk. Here’s the link.
1. “Simply moving your body has immediate, long-lasting and protective benefits for your brain. And that can last for the rest of your life.”
“Exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today for the following three reasons.
- It has immediate effects on your brain. A single workout that you do will immediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. That is going to increase your mood right after that workout.
- A single workout can improve your ability to shift and focus attention, and that focus improvement will last for at least two hours.
- A single workout will improve your reaction times.
But these immediate effects are transient, they help you right after.
What one needs is a consistent approach. By increasing your cardiorespiratory function, you get the long-lasting effects.
Because exercise actually changes the brain’s anatomy, physiology and function.
The hippocampus — or exercise actually produces brand new brain cells. That actually increases the volume of the hippocampus, as well as improves your long-term memory.
The most transformative thing that exercise will do is its protective effects on your brain.
Here you can think about the brain like a muscle.
The more you’re working out, the bigger and stronger your hippocampus and prefrontal cortex gets.
Why is that important? Because the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are the two areas that are most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and normal cognitive decline in aging.
Bringing exercise in your life will not only give you a happier, more protective life today, but it will protect your brain from incurable diseases.”
BENEFITS OF DANCE
2. An ‘Accessible Complexity’ to grow our capacity
In addition to what Wendy Suzuki highlights, I also think that dance has an ‘accessible complexity’ to grow our brain capacity.
Dance engages you in the complexities of recognising patterns of movement, reproducing or recreating them. I can imagine new brain cells being formed each time we’re having to learn a new choreography, and how our memories get better at retaining more and more intricate steps.
‘Accessible’ because the brain has the amazing capacity to learn and absorb.
Dance also engages us in an emotional way, which besides being cathartic, can also be a way of learning.
3. Dance is social!
I’ll also add that dance and exercising can be social and communal. Humans are social, not isolated beings.
When we dance in a group, there are spontaneous moments, interaction and camaraderie, which can be uplifting.
In Covid times, there may be phases and restrictions for us to get together for in-person classes. But I find that even joining online classes allows us to build a sense of community, shared goals and journey.
My own personal experiences of joining online flamenco classes was that I was able to widen my community.
I got to get to know fellow dancers from different parts of the world. Over time, friendships are formed.
We interact on social media and share tips on dance, song and music.
4. Gain coordination naturally, Feel comfortable in your body
Dance requires coordination of your body to rhythm. It’s not about moving ‘any old how’.
Our minds need to focus and understand how to execute a move with a degree of control. Over time and by doing it consistently (that is key!), motor skills and coordination are built, and it becomes second nature.
I remember my first dance class was a Sevillanas. For those of you who don’t know this folk dance with flamenco flavour from Southern Spain, this is a dance with a high degree of coordination, from your feet, to your body, to the arms, and including your 10 fingers!
I felt so uncoordinated, trying to grasp it, all at once, and putting that into rhythmical music too. (My best friend quit and eventually became a poet, and I continued. Today dance is my creative profession)
Fast forward many, many years later, the Sevillanas is one of the dances, that most of us (who managed to persevere with Spanish dance over the years) would be oh so familiar with!
When the music plays, we start dancing, and we no longer have to think about which step goes where, or how to move our arms and fingers.
5. Foster sensibility to music & expression
Apart from the visible movement of your body, what you don’t see and might start noticing over time, is your response to music.
Our hearts and ears gain sensibility, and we express in natural ways, what we feel within.
Perhaps the world might ask, what use for sensibilities and expression, if it doesn’t lead to a visible economic benefit?
I say, the ability for us to feel and express ourselves as humans is what will distinguish us from robots in the future.
That ability to respond and be spontaneous can also spark off creativity. And if you are creative, chances are, you won’t be replaced by a robot in the tech age!
6. The spirit of ‘I can do!’ Start them young.
If you are a parent with a child, I highly recommend starting your child early in dance, or any creative movement.
When I look at the children in my class, I can see that they are spontaneous, and game to try out anything with their kids’ curiosity. They don’t overthink, nor are overly conscious at a very young age. Which makes them ‘gung-ho’ with a spirit of ‘I can do’!
So I think it’s helpful to start them off young, and to find ways of keeping their child-like spirit a part of them always, such that ‘growing up’ does not take that away from them.
7. It’s never too late to start learning how to dance
If you’ve not had the chance to start off young, then no worries, it’s never too late to start at all.
To share with you, what I love about Flamenco is that it’s not based on how young you are, what your body needs to look like, and how much you have to catch your body at its physical peak.
In fact, it’s the opposite!
Like wine, the more years you acquire, the more you enrich your dance, expressing the breadth and depth of experiences you’ve lived through in life.
And so, you’ll find that your dance expression is going to change over the decades, reflecting you.
It’s not about perfection.
Your personal expression and artistry is your essence as a dancer.
If you’ve watched flamenco videos, you might encounter somewhere 70, 80 year old abuelas (grannies) are dancing, and they do so with so much flavour. They’re not trying to be the image or ideal of someone else.
They are just being their natural selves.
Watch those grannies and learn from them 😉
8. Learn to present yourself well
Here’s one other benefit of dance for everyone, even if you are not a dancer.
You see, even if you’ve had a short dance stint, that can help you gain body awareness. By this, I don’t mean knowing how to move or coordinate alone.
I mean the awareness of your posture, how you are presenting yourself, your energy level, your project.
Plus eye contact and engagement. And more!
If you’ve not already guessed, all these are super helpful for many occasions – when you are at a job interview, when you have to do public speaking in front of a thousand people, or simply at social occasions!
Literally, put your best foot forward.
So get moving, be healthy, wealthy (invest in yourself) and happy!