Health Benefits

Scottish Country Dancing has several aspects which contribute to maintaining good health. Obviously the physical nature of the dancing performs an exercise function, but there is more.   Look at the transcript of Jenny Brockie's  "Insight"  program talking about brain function.....


EPISODE: Brainiac, Tuesday, 3 Nov 09

JENNY BROCKIE: There are some unexpected ways people stimulate their brains, let's have a look.


WOMAN: Scottish country dancing is made up of couples dancing in what we call a set. There are square formations, round formations, ones that interlock with each other, reels which is figures of eight.

 MAN: It's not as easy as it looks. It looks simplistic and tweed but to do it well is actually highly complex. It takes up to two years of solid dancing to get to a level of reasonable competency.

MAN 2: You've got to keep your brain active and this does do that. This Scottish dancing you've got to be thinking on your feet all the time.

 MAN: It actually hones your memory. You've got to learn it and keep honing it. It requires actually deceptive amount of athleticism and balance.

WOMAN: Keeping the brain active, it certainly does that, that's exactly what it does.

JENNY BROCKIE: Michael, lots of raised eyebrows in the room. A bit of sniggering, what is going on in the brain of those people do that Scottish dancing?

MICHAEL VALENZUELA: Obviously a lot because any complex activity like dancing you're really going to be involving all those parts of the brain and then we're coordinating our action, we're having to memorise complex behaviours, move them from short-term memory into long-term memory and also a lot of social predictions, so we're predicting how our partner will respond, how movements will respond in other people and ourselves. So  a very complex set of things is happening in the brain.

JENNY BROCKIE: We've got a picture here, I want you to tell us what this picture shows, that red mark down there, what is that?

MICHAEL VALENZUELA: Okay, so here we're looking at real human brain, and at the bottom highlighted in red is a key part of the brain called the hippocampus and this is the memory centre of the brain. So the person at the top with the outlined hippocampus was someone very engaged, may have been taking dancing, may have been volunteering and you can see that the hippocampus is nice and fat and there's little black area around it so there's been very small amount of atrophy which is shrinkage. Now the person at the bottom is someone of the same age, they're not doing the kind of mental engagement and building up their reserve over their life and you can see that they have much more shrinkage and we did this study not just that one time point but over three years and showed that if you stay mentally engaged through activities like dancing, the person up the top will have about half the rate of shrinkage than a person like the second group.

JENNY BROCKIE: What's the difference between that, between doing the dancing and doing one of these courses that we were talking about?

MICHAEL VALENZUELA: Well, I talk about the three keys which are incorporating mental activity, social activity and physical activity and if we can put those three things together, and dancing's a great example, then I think you will be having the maximal effect on whatever you want to call it, optimising brain health or increasing your own plasticity.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you can do the tango if you're not really into the Scottish dancing or something else?

MICHAEL VALENZUELA: Of course and these kind of cognitive training products would be just a very narrow kind of activity that would fit into the mental stimulation recommendation. So there's a much broader range of things we can do than just -

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, lady here.

MARIA GRABSKI: How does that compare with just being alone and doing more intellectual things on your own like crossword puzzle and things like that?

MICHAEL VALENZUELA: Well, in general the findings are really that if there's a social element to the interaction that it's going to be better than doing something alone.

JENNY BROCKIE: That's interesting because people think crossword puzzles and they think those sorts of things so you think that combination is better?

MICHAEL VALENZUELA: I think it needs to be challenging and it has to be something at the level of learning a new language, learning a new dance, that's the kind of demand level which is going to really drive all the neuroplastic processes rather than something fairly simple like a crossword.

Various studies have been done about its benefits, and information about these may be found below........

Health Benefits of Scottish Country Dancing

The claim that individual participation in adequate amounts of regular physical activity can improve health and prevent disease is well established. The scientific evidence is based on many studies; epidemiological, clinical, and physiological. In the UK a working party of the Royal College of Physicians, convened in 1989, examined this evidence, recognised its importance, and based a series of recommendations on it (1). In 1996 a consensus development

panel on physical activity and cardiovascular health convened by The National Institutes of Health recommended that all Americans should engage in regular physical activity at a level appropriate to their capacity, needs, and interest (2). Frequent and regular aerobic exercise has been shown to help prevent or treat serious and lifethreatening chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. It also improves mental health, helps prevent depression, and helps to promote or maintain positive self-esteem (3, 4, 5). Weight-bearing exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of osteoporosis (6, 7). Regular exercise increases the level of chemicals in the brain, notably serotonin, which improve mood (8) and so can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. It can benefit those who have been bereaved and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Regular exercise also helps with weight control (9). A major priority for Public Health is to embed physical activity in the lives of many more people (10). The medical profession and especially GPs have a major role in promoting regular physical activity in the general population (11). People can engage in regular physical activity in many ways, so which is the best activity to choose? Scottish country dancing has been shown to be superior to other forms of physical activity in building levels of fitness (12). A Canadian study found Scottish country dancing to be superior to folk and square dancing (13). It can contribute to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, perhaps due to the complex interplay of cognitive skills needed to memorise steps and formations and co-ordinate with others, and because dance music engages the mind (14).The social component of Scottish country dancing develops a sense of community and an enjoyment factor, which encourages continued participation and, therefore, long term involvement in the physical activity (6). Also the social relationships that develop in those who take part in Scottish country dancing are linked to good health, longevity and a positive attitude (15, 16, 17).

For more information contact:

The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society

12 Coates Crescent Tel: +44 (0)131 225 3854

Edinburgh Fax: +44 (0)131 225 7783

Scotland Email:

EH3 7AF Web:

Registered as a Scottish Charity No. SC 016085


1) PH Fentem BMJ 308 : 1291 (Published 14 May 1994)

2) JAMA. 1996;276(3):241-246

3) Jason Menoutis, Ed.D. (2008). "Physical Activity and Health”

4) Jette M, Inglis H. (1975) Energy cost of square dancing. J Appl Physiol.1975

5) Kravitz L, Vella CA. (1992) Energy Expenditure in Different Modes of Exercise. American

College of Sports Medicine. Current comment June 2002.

6) The Fitness Jump Site. Activity Calorie Calculator.

7) Wigaeus E, Kilbom A. (1980) Physical Demands during folk dancing. EUR J Appl Physiol

Occup Physiol. 1980;45(2-3):177-83

8) Parker-Pope, T. (2001). For a Healthy Brain You Really Need to Use Your Head -- Physical

and Mental Exercise Can Stave Off Mental Decline.

9) King AC, Tribble DL. (1991)The Role of exercise in weight regulation in non-athletes.

Sports Med 1991 May:11(5):331-49

10) Br J Sports Med 2000;34:409-410 doi:10.1136/bjsm.34.6.409

11) Exercise on prescription improves health and quality of life – BMJ 12 Dec 2008

12) Dougall P, Dewhurst S., Univ. of Strathclyde. 6 Aug 2010

13) Erison M, An Evaluation of the Health and Recreational Benefits of Scottish Country

Dance, City of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

14) Cornelia Beck (2003) Caregiver Supervised Exercise Benefits Individuals with

Alzheimer’s. Journal of the Amer. Medical Assoc. 2003 Oct 15

15) Housman, Jeff Sept/Oct 2005 The Alameda County Study, A systematic chronological

review, Amer. Journal of Health Educ.

16) Reston,VA:Amer Alliance for Health, Phys. Educ, Recreation and Dance 36(5):302-308

17) Wingard, Dl, Berkman LF, Brand RJ(1982) A multivariate analysis of health-related

practices: a nine-year mortality follow-up of the Alameda County Study. Am.J Epidemiol