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"Act your age", definitely not for Toowong Tennis Old dogs

Meet my mother in law, who just turned 87 years, this January. But for her age, she is amazing in that each week she drives herself to Auchenflower, to go out to lunch with Anna and I, and then afterwards drives herself back to Cleveland.

But if you think that is great, check her out on the dance floor. This is even more amazing considering that a few years back she had two hip replacements. So when we are on the tennis court and think that we are little too old to be doing this or trying too hard to get the shots back, we should remember Patsy being on the dance floor. When we were probably in our teens, often our parents or teachers would say to us, "Act your age" to stop our tomfoolery. But now that we are older, the advice which is even backed up by Neuroscience, is to definitely NOT ACT YOUR AGE.

But there is more to this dancing, which is covered in the book, Brain Rules or Aging Well by John Medina. The book describes one study, where researchers enrolled healthy older adults, ages sixty to ninety four, in a six- month dance class, one hour per week. The investigators assessed a broad range of cognitive and motor skills before the class commenced, then assessed them again six months later. Non-dancing controls were also measured.

The results were:

  • Hand motor coordination improved by about 8% in six months.

  • This is made even better, because the controls actually decreased during the same period

  • Suites of cognitive skills were tested (fluid intelligence, short term memory, and impulse control) and these increased by an impressive 13%

  • Posture and balance increased by about 25% (controls demonstrated a net decrease)

Half a year later, the dancers did not move the same way - or think the same way.

It did not matter what type of dancing it was and it could have been other forms of ritualised movement instruction such as tai chi or various martial arts. One of the most unexpected findings had to do with the number of falls experienced by seniors who took movement classes. During the testing period in one tai chi program, the number of falls fell by 37%. This is extremely impressive, considering in Australia, fall related injuries among the elderly, represent 5% of the health care budget.

Why does dancing work?

Well just like with tennis, exercise plays a part. But also dancing requires participants not only to learn and memorise synchronised coordinated movements but also to muster up the energy to perform them. Finally, there is the idea of face to face interaction and this brings about the benefits of touch for senior brains.

So everyone, not only should you be playing tennis, but you should be taking your partner out to dinner than to dancing and if you can't dance, no time like the present to learn, you will enjoy it.

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