Yukta Kulkarni ’22
It is a well-known fact that exercise has many physical and psychological benefits. For example, persistent exercise is associated with increased muscle strength, a better metabolism, and even improving mood. Amidst common forms of exercise such as weight lifting and running, other activities such as dancing can fall into this category. Previous studies have shown that dancing offers advantages such as improvements in balance, coordination, and stress management. However, not many studies have tested the effects of dancing on those with mental illnesses. Thus, Jindong Chang and their group of researchers aspired to determine if there was an association between the two. They hypothesized that after 18 weeks of square dancing classes, adults with mild cognitive impairment would improve their mental health and that they would have fewer depressive symptoms compared to the control group.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers recruited participants from women-only nursing homes in China who were at least 60 years old and had experienced cognitive impairment, as indicated by a score of less than 26 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). Out of 109 women, 62 participants were part of the experimental group, who participated in the square dancing classes 3 times a week for 30 minutes, and 47 were in the control group, who continued life as normal. After 9 and 18 weeks, both groups took the MoCA again. The experimental group’s score increased insignificantly in week 9 and significantly in week 18, indicating that cognition increased, while the control group’s score remained relatively constant. From the baseline week to week 3, MoCA increased by 0.73 in the experimental group and the control group decreased by 0.28. Furthermore, depressive symptoms decreased in the experimental group.
These results indicate that square dancing can affect cognitive performance and the level of depression in older women who already have cognitive impairments. This is important as nursing homes can make sure to implement some form of exercise for their patients. Limitations to this study were that the sample size is small and may not represent the entire population of women as the participants were from the same city. Additionally, since men were not tested, the results cannot be assumed to be the same in males. These limitations should be addressed in future studies. Overall, it may mentally and physically benefit women in nursing homes if Chinese square dance was implemented into their weekly routine.
 J. Chang, et al., Effect of square dance exercise on older women with mild mental disorders. Front. Psychiatry 12 (2021). doi: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.699778