NorthShore Squares

Health Benefits

Physical Health
Statistical studies show that for every hour you spend running you add seven hours to your life. Aerobic exercise is good for you. The math is different for walking just because you don't cover the miles as efficiently. But the benefits are still there. And a night of square dancing allows you to walk several miles without feeling like you're exercising. You're just having fun with your friends. But those three miles mean that for the next day or so your blood chemistry will be that of a healthy athlete.

Brain Health
Neuroscientists know that brains alter and slow as we grow older. Processing speed in particular slows, probably due to the fraying of our brain's white matter.

So they did a study to assess how various forms of exercise affected the brain. One group began a supervised program of brisk walking an hour at a time three days a week. Another a regimen of stretching and balance training with the same regularity. The last group learned to do "social dance," and while they don't label it as square dancing, the description sure sounds like square dancing.

MRIs were done at the beginning and at the end of the six month experiment. The researchers found that degeneration in white matter was widespread, noting that it was especially noticeable in the older participants and those who had lived the most sedentary lives before doing the study.

One group showed an actual improvement in some of their white matter: the dancers. So why did they do better than those who simply walked? It would seem that combining aerobics with puzzle solving and socializing results in changes to the brain that other forms of exercise can't match. And, of all the forms of social dance, square dancing has far and away more puzzle-solving.

The Lab Rats
Another study compared the effects of exercise on three sets of lab rats. One group logged several miles of moderate paced running each day. One group did high-intensity interval training. And the third group did resistance training (climbing walls with weights attached to their tails, how clever). The result?

First a definition: Neurogenesis is the generation of neurons. The aerobic rats showed robust levels of neurogenesis. The more distance they covered, the more new cells. The high-intensity training rats showed far less neurogenesis. And the weight training rats showed no improvement. Now I happen to think weight training is good for us. But it probably won't help our brains stay healthy. Upping the intensity of the training actually decreased the neurogenesis. Easy, steady exercise seems to be good for the brain. Ah, but how can we conclude that aerobic exercise is good for our brains when the study was done on rats. We can't. But the reason scientists use rats in such experiments is that they've been found to be similar to us in so many ways. If it's true in rats, it's probably true in people.

The Twins
Not convinced? In Finland they did a study on ten sets of identical twins, same genetics, same upbringing and same diet, whose exercise habits had diverged over the last few years. One exercised, one was sedentary. The twins that were sedentary had lower endurance capacities, higher body fat percentages and signs of insulin resistance, signaling the onset of metabolic problems. And here's what's really fascinating, the active twins had significantly more grey matter.

Social Health
Research also shows that being part of a community will add years to your life. Doesn't matter what sort of community, a church, a team, anything that puts people around you who know you and interact with you. Square dancing is a community. It's a community based on keeping your wits about you and functioning at a very high level while doing something that's extremely healthy.

You can do it your whole life, and by doing so you'll add years to your life.