Age-related degenerations in brain structure are associated with balance disturbances and cognitive impairment. However, neuroplasticity is known to be preserved throughout lifespan and physical training studies with seniors could reveal volume increases in the hippocampus (HC), a region crucial for memory consolidation, learning and navigation in space, which were related to improvements in aerobic fitness. Moreover, a positive correlation between left HC volume and balance performance was observed. Dancing seems a promising intervention for both improving balance and brain structure in the elderly. It combines aerobic fitness, sensorimotor skills and cognitive demands while at the same time the risk of injuries is low. Hence, the present investigation compared the effects of an 18-month dancing intervention and traditional health fitness training on volumes of hippocampal subfields and balance abilities. Before and after intervention, balance was evaluated using the Sensory Organization Test and HC volumes were derived from magnetic resonance images (3T, MP-RAGE). Fourteen members of the dance (67.21 ± 3.78 years, seven females), and 12 members of the fitness group (68.67 ± 2.57 years, five females) completed the whole study. Both groups revealed hippocampal volume increases mainly in the left HC (CA1, CA2, subiculum). The dancers showed additional increases in the left dentate gyrus and the right subiculum. Moreover, only the dancers achieved a significant increase in the balance composite score. Hence, dancing constitutes a promising candidate in counteracting the age-related decline in physical and mental abilities.
Keywords: aging; balance; dancing; fitness training; hippocampus.