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The Dancing Brain: How To Sharpen Your Mind

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Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to another episode of Wellness Curated. This is your host, Anshu Bahanda. And today we’re going to talk about ideas, tools and techniques which will help you lead a healthier and happier life. And to that effect, I have a really exciting person with me today. His name is Peter Lovatt, and for 25 years, Peter has been a cognitive psychology teacher at some of the best schools in the UK. And then he set up the Movement and Practice Academy and obviously the concept of Movement in Practice. Welcome to the chat, Peter. 

Dr Peter Lovatt: Thank you very much. And thank you for inviting me to talk with you today. I’m really excited to be here. 

AB: Thank you. Thank you for making the time to be here with us. Tell me, Peter, it intrigues me. How did you go from being a teacher of cognitive psychology to being a dancer?

Dr PL: Okay, well, it’s a very good question, but it’s actually the other way around. I started life as a dancer. We know that… well, I believe that all human beings are born to dance. So we are all dancers when we’re born. 

AB: I totally agree with you. All human beings are meant to dance. 

Dr PL: They are, absolutely. And so I danced and I loved the feeling of dancing. And so I eventually became a professional dancer. I love the experience of dance, and I loved performing dance. And what I really enjoyed about performing dance was to see the impact it had on the audience. I loved to see the audience being transformed when they watched dance. They would light up, and they would seem to light up in the way that I would light up when I danced. And I love that interaction. So eventually, when I was in my mid-twenties, I went back to university and studied Psychology and English for my first degree. And then I did a master’s degree in Neural Computation, which is the mathematical modelling of brain functions. And then I did my PhD in Experimental Cognitive Psychology. And after that, then I was at the University of Cambridge, where I was studying how the brain processes multiple languages. So how does the brain learn all these different languages and store them in your head, and you could flip from one language to another? I really wanted to know how does the brain do that and how does the brain learn it? Ah, I loved it. And it occurred to me while I was there, that we used to talk about L1, which is the first language you learn to speak as a child, and L2, which is the second language you learn to speak, and L3 is your third [language], and so on. 

AB: Right. 

Dr PL: And we’re trying to understand the relationship between these L1 and L2 [languages]. And it occurred to me, of course, that L1 isn’t necessarily a verbal language. Your L1 might well be your movement language because we communicate with our caregivers through our movement before we have verbal language. So then I decided to study dance and movement using the same neuroscience techniques that I’ve been studying to understand cognitive psychology. I decided to apply those to dance, and then I set up the Movement in Practice Academy. 

AB: Tell me another thing. Dance is all about form, isn’t it? And you have an online course. How does that work?

Dr PL: Okay, well, we can teach people. Now, it can be about form, but dance doesn’t have to be about form. It’s about [different] ways of moving. Now, we’re very lucky, obviously, with having Zoom, because then in Zoom, we can… I’m currently in my office. On the other side of my office, over there, is my dance studio. So I can film from the dance studio as well. And we’ve got cameras in there. And what’s wonderful is that as part of the teaching process, then I can move, and the students can move as well. But what we’re really interested in is thinking about how do we take that movement and apply it in those different worlds. And we look at all types of different dances. So if somebody comes up with a particular style or technique of dance, we try to understand how we can use that in either the business setting, or in education, or in health and well-being settings, to enhance people’s lives. 

AB: Obviously, you require certain mental skills to try and remember steps. So you show someone a complicated choreographic dance, they need to remember that and do that. But if you’re just dancing, you’re just moving around, would that sharpen your mental skills as well? And how and what part of the brain would it help?

Dr PL: Well, here we go. This is fascinating. So what we know is that different types of movement stimulate different areas of the brain, and they stimulate different cognitive functions. So we know that very formalized movements might stimulate memory, might stimulate spatial awareness, might stimulate interpersonal interaction with another person, whereas different forms of dance might stimulate your creativity and your problem-solving abilities. And what we know is when we get people improvising, just moving their body in an unplanned way, doing something they hadn’t planned with their body, then it stimulates their creative thinking. Which, when we discovered this in our university, lab, we were fascinated by the idea of the link between you moving your body in an unplanned way and the impact it has on your thinking and problem-solving, which was absolutely fascinating. Now, we took that and applied it in school settings while children were learning serious subjects like physics or math or philosophy. And what we found is that when we had people moving in the classroom for a really short period of time, just having little movement breaks in the classroom, then it stimulated their thinking and problem-solving as it applied to what they were learning. So their ability to learn things to do with physics or engineering, or learning things to do with literature or with philosophy, their learning changed as a consequence of the moment they were doing. 

AB: So you ask them to just move at regular periods of time?

Dr PL: Yeah. 

AB: So let’s say for five minutes or two minutes. 

Dr PL: Two minutes. If we do two minutes of movement every 25 minutes, then we see these benefits in people’s engagement and learning. 

AB: And any movement? Whatever they want?

Dr PL: Well, it depends on what we’re trying to get them to do. So if we’re thinking we want them to stimulate their creativity, we might have them do something improvised. If they’re doing a group task, for instance. So we’ve got groups of four children or four people learning and doing a problem-solving task, like building a bridge, then we might do some movements where they’re coordinating their movements together. Because what we know from that, is that afterwards, their group problem-solving skills are going to be sharpened. Also when young people, when they’ve been learning, like I’ve got a nine-year-old son and if he spends six hours sitting behind a desk during the day, by the third hour his mind is going fuzzy. It’s not very sharp. But if he gets up every 30 minutes and does two minutes of moving around, even just walking around the classroom or stretching up and stretching down, then it sharpens his mind and his time on task is much greater. And his absorption of that information and the way he processes that information also increased as well. So it has all these amazing benefits. 

AB: So what I tell people who work with me is that every half an hour, do something. So I tell them [do] anything you want. Go drink a glass of water, go walk around the table five times, anything. But you’ve got to stop and do something. But I’m going to add dance to my list, now that I’m chatting with you. 

Dr PL: Definitely add dance. There was a paper recently that came out only a few weeks ago looking at break types and productivity in the workplace. And they were finding that an active break… they compared active brakes versus passive breaks. So a passive break is when you stop working, you just sit in a chair and read a magazine. That’s a passive break.  Don’t do that. An active break is when you have a break and you actually do something. And what they found was, even a couple of minutes of stretching, breathing and stretching, and stretching your arms in different ways had an effect on the muscles and that would have a positive impact on the muscles for about 35 minutes. 

AB: Fabulous. 

Dr PL: And of course when you get that movement going, then of course that stimulates cognitive processes, it stimulates your mood, it stimulates a whole range of things and makes you sharper at work. So yeah, every half an hour do a couple of minutes of moving around and do something different. 

AB: So Peter, tell me, what are the other benefits of dance? So you talked about improving memory, you’ve talked about creativity, you’ve talked about problem-solving, you talked about group problem-solving, teamwork, I’m assuming it helps with spatial awareness…

Dr PL: So cognitively there’s a whole set of things. Our brain is specialized for human movement, and therefore it’s no surprise that when you stimulate the brain by movement, it then stimulates the other areas of the brain which are sitting on those areas as well, and underpinning certain cognitive processes. But let me go back one step first and tell you how we discovered this. So we were working with people with Parkinson’s disease. And Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder which affects a wide range of aspects of a person’s life. It affects them physically, it affects them cognitively, it affects them mood-wise, and a whole range of things. What we found is that when people with Parkinson’s engaged in a series of dance sessions, then some of their symptoms become clinically and significantly improved. Now, while we’re doing this research with people with Parkinson’s, we were also doing it with people without Parkinson’s. And then we discovered you get lots of these benefits even in people without Parkinson’s. You get an improvement in these areas. And we found there were four areas where you got improvements. Well, let me tell you what these four areas are and then I’ll give you the acronym. So the first area is the social benefit you get. So the first aspect of the Movement in Practice concept is that you get a benefit to social engagement. 

AB: Right. 

Dr PL: We know that when people move together, then four things happen, or at least four things, even within the social [area]. People report liking each other more, they trust each other more, they feel more psychologically similar to one another, and they show more pro-social behaviour towards each other. They’re more likely to help each other. So just by getting strangers to move together in synchrony, it enhances their social connection. We think that dance and movement form part of a social glue. It’s like a social bonding activity that has come since the very beginning of human time. And we think one of its functions from an evolutionary perspective, is to bond groups of people together so we can recognize who’s in the in-group, and who’s in the out-group. We can protect each other. 

AB: Creates a sense of community. 

Dr PL: Absolutely. When you travel around the world and you look at the way that different groups of people move together, even just walking down the street, there’s something about the kind of social and societal way that people move and groups of people move. 

AB: It explains the culture. Yes. It’s something that’s developed over the generations. Absolutely. 

Dr PL: That’s right. So we’ve got this social bonding. So that’s the first thing that happens. The second thing that happens is our thinking. So our thinking changes. When we move our body, it changes the way that we think. Now if you sit people down and say: learn but don’t move, you are missing [something]. It’s like asking people to read in the dark. You’re missing a huge amount of information. When we get people learning while they’re moving, then they learn differently. As you’ve described, we know that movement enhances memory, spatial awareness, learning, knowledge, and a whole range of cognitive areas are changed when we move. Our problem-solving [abilities] change with different types of movement. So thinking is a big area. The third area is our emotions. We know that two things happen when we move our bodies. One is that dance movement can be like a cathartic release. We know that when people move… we get very pent up with our emotions. In some societies, we’re not very good at expressing our emotions through our body and we hold on to them and hold on to them. Movement is a way of releasing our emotions, of having that cathartic response as sometimes different types of movement can do that. But what’s also really amazing about movement and emotions is that we communicate our emotions. So if you and I are facing each other in the same room, your brain is capable of understanding my emotions through the way that I move my body, which is extraordinary. So we are communicating emotions to each other. So now the very final area is our physical. So the physical element is the consequence of the movement. We know when we move our body it changes us physically, it changes our brain, it changes our muscles, it changes our heart, it changes our hormones. Now this: the relationship between movement and our physical makeup is bi-directional. We know, for instance, that when we move our body it changes those things but also those things impact the way we move. So the way we move is linked to our hormones and our genes. Even something as fundamental as our fertility level and something as our hormonal changes influences how we move our body. And when we go back to the emotions it’s extraordinary because we communicate that information to other people. So all of those together, when we move our body within the Movement in Practice framework, it’s called STEP: S-T-E-P.

AB: Yes I just realized that as I was writing down what you were saying and I just realized it’s STEP, which is beautiful. 

Dr PL: Yes, Social, Thinking, Emotional and Physical, and all those things change. So those are the areas that are impacted when you move your body. 

AB: Fabulous. And you’re saying Peter, that literally it affects the whole brain? Is that what you’re saying? Because I was saying like would it affect a particular part of the brain, but you’re just saying it affects the whole brain: movement?

Dr PL: Well, if you think the human brain is pretty well specialized for movement. Most of the brain has a movement-related function. So even if you think about the integration of those different areas, at the very basic level we have something called sensory-motor coupling. So in the sensory-motor coupling, there’s an area in the brain where if I go boom, you might go ‘Ah!’ and give a startled response. This kind of shows the sensory-motor coupling. We get sensory information coming into our head and that activates what’s called the premotor cortex. And that premotor cortex is fairly dominant, and activation of that then leads to the motor cortex, which leads us to plenty of movement. But then if you think about what’s happening, so we’re walking around, we’re taking in visual information and that’s coming in and affecting us. Every time we move our heads, we’ve got all the balanced stuff going on, which we work out where we are, in space and time, through the movement of our head. Lots of areas of the brain are specialized for movement. So when we move then we’re activating those areas. Now we don’t know why dancing improves the well-being of people with Parkinson’s disease, but one of the suggestions is that we’re stimulating, by getting people moving, we’re almost getting direct access to those areas of the brain which are degenerating, and we’re stimulating them with movement. And so this might be what’s happening there. 

AB: Very interesting. 

Dr PL: Absolutely. The whole brain is a dancing brain. It is a dancing brain. 

AB: Dancing brain. That’s a good term to use. The whole brain is a dancing brain. So you’re telling me that formalized dancing and informal or just creative dancing let’s call it, or impromptu dancing, have different effects? What about different forms of formalized dancing? Like would Indian classical dance be different from ballet, be different from jazz dancing? Would the impact of all these be different?

Dr PL: Yes, they would because of the different demands required of them. So some dance forms require a high degree of technical accuracy, some forms of dance are very specific in terms of having cultural relevance to people, some are based more on freestyle, and some are very formalized. So some forms of dance you might be working towards an examination, in that dance form. Other forms of dance may not have that examination that changes it. Some forms of dance require a huge amount of control and isolation like different Irish dancing. Then some Irish dancing, the upper body has to be perfectly still, and everything happens with the legs, whereas other forms of dance use different body parts. So yes, depending on the style of movement, but also on, I guess, the messaging that’s behind it, whether you’re telling a story with your hands and what those hand gestures mean, will have an impact, even if it’s completely abstract. Like some forms of dance are entirely abstract, whereas some forms of dance carry a narrative or a message. 

AB: Does something like, obviously, the choice of music will make a difference in what emotion it evokes in you, so would things like your choice of music, rhythm, speed, do all these impact the benefit you get from dance?

Dr PL: Yes, they do. Now, we’ve looked at rhythm and timing, again, with people with Parkinson’s. And what we find is that the rhythm of the music, when it keys into an individual’s, natural, automatic tempo; you know we all have an automatic rhythmic tempo. So if we say to somebody, just tap your finger at a rate that’s comfortable to you, we find that kind of natural rhythm and walking speed. I mean, I know my wife and I, our natural rhythms are very different. When we go for a walk, I’m way ahead of Lindsey because I walk so much faster than her. And her natural, comfortable rhythm is to walk like that. And my natural, comfortable rhythm is to walk much faster. That’s where I’m comfortable. And it’s the same when we’re dancing to different music, we key into different music and different rhythmic patterns. So, yes, there is a natural rhythm we have. And when we tune into that natural rhythm with music, then we get a synergy between our own natural internal timing mechanism and the external stimuli that we can then tune into. 

AB: Okay. So when you use Movement in Practice therapy, what sort of dance do you teach?

Dr PL: Okay, so there are two things. Let me just say one thing first, is that we don’t use Movement in Practice as a therapy. So I’m not a therapist. Now, my wife Lindsey Lovatt has been a therapist for the last 30 years. So she’s worked in occupational therapy, she’s worked in family therapy, child and adolescent therapy. So she comes from a therapeutic background. 

AB: God, you guys are a serious power couple. 

Dr PL: We’ve combined our passions together, which is great. I come from an academic perspective, and Lindsey comes from a therapeutic background. But what we do is try to apply movement in these different areas. So, for instance, if we’re working with a client, say it’s a business client, and our business client says, ‘Look, one thing we’re trying to do is to increase the creativity of our workforce’. Then we’ll create some dances that stimulate creativity. Or another organization might say, ‘Can you help us? We’ve got a group of people, and they’re not bonded. We’ve got all these groups and they’re not bonded together’. So we do different dances for that. We’ve got some who want to increase or decrease the emotionality of their workforce, and some who want to increase the physicality of their workforce. We worked with a restaurant chain recently, and this restaurant chain is a fast food restaurant, a very famous one. And they’ve got a large number of staff, and they work in these fast food kitchens, and each person does one particular job like wrapping up food, and somebody else’s shaking fries, and somebody else’s packing bags, and they do that same movement for four or five hours at a time. And so for them, we worked on how we can introduce different movements into that environment to help people be productive. So we use different types of movement depending on what the problem is. 

AB: Okay. 

Dr PL: We also have… now let me say the flip side of that. So we have Movement in Practice, but then we have an applications area where we create solutions for the real world and one of those is called Move-Assure. Now, Move-Assure is ‘M-O-V-E hyphen Assure’ and it’s a dance for mental well-being program. And what we’ve done is we’ve teamed up with probably the most famous ballet dancer in England. We’ve got me as a psychologist and Lindsey as a therapist and we’ve created a dance package and well-being package around it to help people with issues of mental well-being using dance. 

AB: Yes I read you teamed up with Darcy Bussell. 

Dr PL: That’s right.

AB: Yes I read somewhere. So I’m sure it’s absolutely incredible. But do certain dance moves correlate to certain benefits?

Dr PL: Yes, they do. Yes. So certain dance moves do lead to certain benefits and the time it takes you to get those benefits varies. So for instance, if you get people moving together you will get almost an instantaneous social connection and social bonding which is fantastic. If you look at the cognitive element, then sometimes that cognitive element could take several weeks’ worth of dancing to get that benefit. Now, of course, what we’ll do is for a social dance to get an immediate benefit, we have people dancing in synchrony. They don’t have to touch each other, just move in synchrony. When we go on to attack someone’s memory processes, what we might do is teach them some sequences of movements and we build up those sequences of movements so it becomes more and more and more demanding on their memory processes. And what’s wonderful is when you teach people novel sequences, it can be really frustrating because they might learn. Well, this comes back from my research into human memory and how much people can remember. And, of course, what you have, you have some novel movements and then you bond them into sequences of movements and then you can chunk that sequence up so it becomes one unit of memory and then you can make it more advanced and have another chunk of movement patterns. If we wanted to stimulate that, then we would use teaching people very formalized movements. If we wanted to encourage people’s emotional expression, what we might do is teach them a movement frame and then we would ask them to express that moment frame in different emotional contexts. So it might be because somebody might do a cheerleading dance and of course, then you think, oh, that’s a cheerleading dance, that’s very good. But then you might want to express that. You might slow it down and express it in a different way. You might say, well, let’s try and express that as a form of regret [while] doing the same movements. But how do you perform that to express a different emotion? Or we might say, how could you do that as a form of jealousy? Exactly the same movements. What we’re doing here is getting people in tune with their movements and the expression of emotions through those movements and you get really subtle changes and really subtle differences. 

AB: Do you know what you say about the social connection, that is definitely 100% there. I mean, for our Indian weddings, dancing is a big thing and you can see the bonding that happens right there on the dance floor. But Peter, in terms of age, from what you’re telling me, it seems like every age, and I really believe that every age benefits from movement and from dancing. But would you say that the maximum benefit comes when you’re under 25, say, when the prefrontal cortex isn’t developed or when you’re a child before six years because that’s when you influence your subconscious mind?

Dr PL: Well, I would say dance is a lifelong activity. Now, in terms of the benefits you get, if you have got structural fluidity and if the brain is still developing in early childhood, then encouraging movement will encourage the development of the brain in a positive way. So that’s very important. I don’t know who said it once… I think a Chinese philosopher, maybe, was asked, when is the best time to plant a tree? And he said, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time to plant a tree is today. And I think the same is true for dancing. The earlier we start, the better. But then you also get benefits even for older people. When we look at the research on dance for neurodegeneration, even when people start to dance for the very first time over the age of 50, we still see changes in a neurological, structural way as a consequence of engaging with dance. 

AB: Okay. 

Dr PL: So, yes, I would absolutely encourage people to dance early, but it’s never too late to start. And as soon as you start, you will start to see benefits. 

AB: In the context of parents whose children are going to school or applying for university admissions and the pressure that a school-going child goes through with their exams and their board level exams and all kinds of things. Have you seen that if they were to introduce movement into the child’s life, if they were to introduce some form of dancing, it has benefited the child, even their performance has benefited?

Dr PL: Yes. 

AB: Academic?

Dr PL: Academic. I can say by looking at two areas, by looking at the research evidence. The research evidence and published academic studies show that when people move their bodies, it enhances those different skills, and you get an improvement in terms of their performance. And also by looking at some of the best schools in England that use movement and dance as a form of activity. Now, it’s not only dance, it’s about movement and shared movement. And when you have schools that encourage that movement, you get a massive benefit. Now, I was invited to Oklahoma in the United States, and there they had some money, some tobacco levy money. So tobacco companies had to give money to the government to sell tobacco, and the government gave it to schools as an extra grant. And these schools in Oklahoma were using the money to enhance the amount of movement they had in their classrooms. So they changed the style of the chairs. They did something really simple. They put a toilet block in every single classroom so that kids could go to the toilet during a lesson if they needed to. So they just stand up and go for a walk to the toilet and come back here. It would take them two minutes and they introduced a whole load of different movements. And what they found was that engagement in the classroom was better and learning was better as well. Now, another school up in Scotland, in the north of England also did something similar. A school in a very, very deprived area brought in ballet. And this was a highly deprived area. Lots of the children didn’t attend school. They were often playing truant. They were away. The school decided to bring in ballet as a compulsory activity that all children would do. And they would do it during the day, just for a short period of time. And what they found was that the young people’s concentration improved in the other classes. So they would do some ballet and then they would go back into their classroom. Their concentration levels were higher and their engagement was higher, and their learning was more successful. So we know that when people move more, then it enhances their cognitive functions, interpersonal relationships, and emotions. Now, I’ll go back to something earlier on. It’s like you might have the question, but isn’t that a waste of time? Isn’t it the case that if you’ve got a full timetable, then shouldn’t we just make them work and read and learn and, test, and drill them over and over and over again? Isn’t that the best approach? I would suggest that’s not the right approach. I would suggest taking movement breaks throughout the day will be a fantastic use of that person’s time. 

AB: Peter, you reminded me of a story. So when one of my daughters was little, she just couldn’t learn her times tables. She just wouldn’t get them. So I said, right, we’re going to jump and learn them. So we would jump and skip and start saying the timetable and it just came like this [snaps fingers]. And we would even jump on the bed, which I know a lot of parents are going to think we were crazy, but we would just jump wherever we were and start learning them, or we would start skipping and learning them and we’d start saying them and I don’t know, it just went into her brain. I don’t know how. 

Dr PL: Well, you’re creating that… you’re stimulating the brain, you’re opening the brain up for that information to go in. But not just go in, because that forms the basis of knowledge, doesn’t it? And then, now then she can use those times tables in a much more advanced [way]. Well, once she’s got them as a foundation, she can then access them and use them. And of course, that’s what’s so important. When we’re stimulating the brain, we’re opening it up, it becomes more absorbent, the information is coming in and then it becomes a really important part of their knowledge. We see that there are reading programs where young people are learning to read, using movement as a way of thinking about shapes of words and letters. 

AB: What about cognitive impairment? Whether it’s cognitive impairment or like we briefly talked about age-related cognitive decline, what about situations like that?

Dr PL: Well, both of those you get enhancement with movement. So one of the areas with the reading we were looking at was young people with Dyslexia. And so if you get people, young people with Dyslexia, one way they might access words, patterns of words, and relationships is through moving with them as well. So when we get young people moving… we have people with all kinds of cognitive deficits who use movement as a way to access communication with other people or a way of communicating with certain material. Of course, there are studies which have shown that, and one particular study looked at cognitive decline in people over the age of 50 and they had two groups, they had brain scanned them all in the beginning. Now, over the age of 50, you have about a 2% loss of the hippocampus every year. And of course the hippocampus is really important for memory. And so what they did, they took a whole cohort of people over the age of 50 and measured, they looked at the size of their hippocampus by volume. And then for an entire year, they had one group who were doing a sort of stretching-based exercises, a bit like yoga, and the other group who are doing more aerobic style movement, more like dance. And then they put them through a brain scanner at the end again, and what they found was that the stretching group had experienced the normal, as predicted, 2% decrease in the volume of the hippocampus. And that was associated with a reduction in their memory skills. In the exercise group, the moving group, the more aerobic moving group, those people, not only did their decay not happen, they actually even had a slight increase in hippocampal volume. Now, these researchers, when they found it, were stunned by this and they published it as an academic paper. What they’re saying is that exercise, not only does it prevent the decay of the hippocampus, it actually encourages the stimulation and the growth of that even over the age of 50. And that’s related to an increase in cognitive functioning with memory and language. So we know that movement is working this stuff up here. If you want your child’s brain to be more effective, get them to move. 

AB: You need to tell me how long people need to move in terms of hours, days, and years before they begin to see benefits. And what happens when they stop? Because like someone like me, I used to do Indian classical dancing till the age of 13. Now I haven’t done it since 13. So I’m assuming all those accumulated benefits… I was doing since I was three years old, so those ten years of benefits are gone now? 

Dr PL: No, they haven’t gone. We know that dancers’ brains are functionally different to a non-dancer’s brains. So looking at the grey and white matter in the brain, some researchers have been looking at the balance areas of the brain and they found that high-level dancers… we know that dancers are made as well as being born. So when you practice, as you were doing with the classical dance for ten years, then that would have had structural changes to your brain. Now, of course, some of those will adapt out and some of them will remain. So your brain will always be partially a dancer’s brain, but once you start dancing again, it’ll kick back in. So we know that when people dance about three times a week, even just for 15 or 20 minutes, you get these amazing benefits. And we know that with people with Parkinson’s, they come in having never danced or they may not have danced for 20 years. And then we put them through ten weeks’ worth of dance where they’re only dancing for 1 hour a week. And then we see by about week three or four, well, immediately after the first session you see some improvements, typically in the mood. And then after three or four weeks, we start to see changes in their thinking skills. And by the end of the ten weeks, we see changes there. Now, when we go back to them three months after they finished dancing, we see changes in their activities of daily living which are consequences of changes and problem-solving. Then you get a benefit lasting for three months even after they stop dancing. So we get these benefits. But of course, a healthy brain is like a healthy body. There’s no point in having a wonderful diet and having a really healthy eating diet for 20 years and then binging for ten years. 

AB: Yeah. 

Dr PL: For the first… you know, you might have had a brilliant, healthy diet, and then you stop having a healthy diet. You’ll still get some benefit from having had a healthy diet for a while, but then your poor diet will then take over. 

AB: And what if someone is completely uncoordinated? Do they still benefit?

Dr PL: Nobody is uncoordinated. We are born to be coordinated. Our brains function in a rhythm. Our hearts beat in a rhythm. When you walk, you walk in a rhythm. You might not have the strut of John Travolta, but you certainly walk rhythmically. So with all of those things, we are fundamentally rhythmic beings. Now, of course, the sensory-motor coupling is this area where the sensory’s need to couple- up to that sensory information coming on and move on the beat. We get lots of people with the ability to move on the beat. If you play tennis or if you play football, or if you do anything moving around, if you’re walking towards somebody in the street and then you cross past, you don’t crash into them, you walk past them, then you are coordinated. You are coordinating your movement to another stimulation. 

AB: Wonderful, Peter. That was such a wonderful chat. But before you go, I want to sum up very quickly. So the best age that benefits the brain. 

Dr PL: The best age for dancing that benefits the brain, I would say as soon as you’re born, keep dancing. But then if you stop dancing, then today, whatever age you are, today is the best age. 

AB: And how often should one dance to impact the brain positively?

Dr PL: Three times a week for 20 minutes. 

AB: Three times a week for 20 minutes. And what dance sharpens the brain the most?

Dr PL: Okay, well, to be creative, improvise movement. So move your body in a way that you’ve never moved it before, and think about how you move differently from the way you normally move, and that will really sharpen up your thinking and problem-solving. 

AB: Wonderful. Thank you. That was Dr Peter Lovatt and that was an incredible chat. Thank you, Peter. 

Dr PL: Well, thank you so much for inviting me. It’s been really lovely chatting with you today. 

AB: Thank you for being here with us today. We hope you learned something. We hope you enjoyed the chat, and we hope you’re closer to leading a healthier, happier, more empowered life. If you enjoyed the chat, do remember to subscribe to our channel and we’ll see you next week.