This is Your Brain on Dance!

By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT , Chicago Dance TherapyImage result for brain dance

June, which is just around the corner, is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. There are an estimated 47 million people worldwide living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. If you are not familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, it is a progressive disease that affects memory and other cognitive functions and it is the most common form of dementia.

Since there is no known cure for the illness, people are looking for ways to stay cognitively active and one such way that has been getting a lot of attention is DANCE! According to researchers, dancing involves both a mental effort and social interaction which helps reduce the risk of dementia. We are now realizing that dance has so many benefits outside of physical health. Here are 7 ways that dance impacts our brains.

Dance makes us smarter.
Engaging in dance has the ability to improve processing and executive functioning skills which correlate to greater intelligence. Studies have reported that dance even helps with focus, productivity, and mental acuity.

Dance helps create new neural connections.
When we engage in movements that cross the midline (or center) of our bodies, we actually allow one hemisphere of the brain to “talk” to the other. This essentially creates new neural connections that enhance our neuroplasticity or, in other words, our brain’s ability to change.

Dance reduces stress.
When you dance, your brain releases serotonin- a “feel good” hormone. Participating in dance on a regular basis has been shown to reduce anxiety and stress in the brain and the body as well as play a role in stress management.

Dance helps maintain and even improve memory.
Practicing a dance or choreography enhances procedural memory which in turn supports the brains ability to quickly instruct or carry out a task.

Dance allows for greater empathy and compassion.
Finding new ways to move and expanding our “movement repertoire” allows us to move from a place of greater acceptance and understanding. We can enhance our tolerance and create space for differences by trying on new movements, essentially getting a feel for what it is like to move in someone else’s shoes.

Dance increases creativity.
If you have ever prepared for an audition, showcase, or merely marked some choreography, you most likely used your hands to symbolize a larger movement. Using our hands and engaging in gesturing actually increases our creativity.

Dance fosters social interaction.
Dance lessons can help improve social and communication skills. Dance can help people learn how to work as part of a team, develop a greater ability to cooperate and even assist people in making new friends.

Long Distance Running Won’t Kill Your Knees

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc , Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • There’s a common belief that running leads eventually to arthritis in the hips or knees but evidence shows that runners have no increased risk for arthritis and in fact may have lower risk than the general population
  • The biggest risk factors for developing arthritis are prior injury or surgery to the joint, family history, and high body mass index

I see a lot of folks in my clinical practice with hip and knee arthritis and many of them have extensive running histories. Most of these folks believe that it’s the long term running that eventually led to the arthritis, but the belief that running causes knee arthritis is probably a myth.

The idea that running can lead to arthritis makes sense. You run on a hard surface for long distances and over many years the impact leads to wear and tear. Seems pretty logical, right? Well the available evidence points us in a different direction.

There have been several good quality medical studies done over the years to study the relationship between running and arthritis. I want to highlight three that have some interesting and relevant points.

This study published earlier this year specifically studied marathon runners. These were experienced high mileage runners, average age 48 years, typically training about 36 miles per week. They’d completed an average of 76 marathons! About 47% reported hip or knee pain but only about 9% had arthritis. The strongest predictors of hip or knee arthritis were older age, family history of arthritis, and any prior surgery on the joint. But marathon running itself was not predictive of arthritis.

This study of about 75,000 runnersis pretty impressive for the number of people who participated. It’s incredibly difficult to get information on that many individuals. The author used the National Runners’ Health Study and the National Walkers’ Health Study. During a multi year follow up, about 2.6% of the runners reported arthritis, and about 4.7% of the walkers reported arthritis. These are pretty low numbers since the generally accepted prevalence of arthritis amongst all U.S. adults over 55 years of age is about 18%. The author believed that the most meaningful reason is that the body mass index (BMI) of the runners was less than the walkers, and presumably both are lower than the average BMI for the general population.

And here’s another interesting study titled “Why Don’t Most Runners Get Knee Osteoarthritis?”These authors used motion capture imaging and force plates in the ground to estimate forces across the knee joint with running and walking. They found as expected that there’s quite a bit more load across the knee joint with running (8x body weight) vs. walking (3x body weight). But the runners have longer stride lengths than the walkers, which meant that they took fewer steps over a given distance than walkers and had fewer impacts. The runners also experienced any pounding for a shorter period of time than when they walked, because their foot was in contact with the ground only briefly with each stride.

The net effect was that the amount of force moving through a participant’s knees over any given distance was equivalent, whether they ran or walked. It’s an interesting mechanical explanation.Logo

So these and other available scientific evidence indicate that running itself is not a risk factor for developing hip or knee arthritis. The strongest risk factors appear to be prior surgery or injury to the joint, a family history of arthritis, and a high BMI. If you start out running with a healthy joint there’s good reason to believe you can run healthy for many years. This myth is probably busted.

Soccer stretches to always incorporate into your pre-game warm up from ATI

By: Brian Rog and Jen Robbins, MS, ATC for ATI Physical Therapy

Soccer stretches to always incorporate into your pre-game warm up from ATI

We all aim to be that bigger, faster and more conditioned athlete on the soccer field, but getting there requires a disciplined level of strength and endurance to keep up with the rapid speed and agility loads. A large fraction of your success falls heavily on your pre-game routine, which tends to be one of the most neglected aspects for many.

Before hitting the field and to help meet the physical demands of the sport, it’s important to properly stretch to limber up and activate the necessary muscle groups needed to withstand the strains from gameplay. Through stretching, the risk of injury is minimized, while flexibility is maximized.

As a result, you may also notice gains in your endurance and levels of balance. In fact, increased bending and flexibility also play a pivotal role in bettering overall posture, which over time, will strengthen your core and keep your performance at a maximum. Pre-game stretches and warm ups are also crucial for increasing the heart rate so oxygen can be transported to those muscles where major nutrients are consumed.

Considerable research has proven that increased stretching harvests a powerful impact on performance outcomes during a physically-demanding activity. When deciding to focus on specific dynamic or static stretches before hitting the field – the experts at ATI Physical Therapy recommend (after loosening up) incorporating these varying levels of stretching techniques to help support your pre-game regimen.

Skipping with High Knees

Standing in an upright position, begin skipping forward, driving your knee up each time you jump as you swing your opposite arm up overhead. Be sure to keep your movements controlled and maintain your balance.

Single Leg Cross Jumps

Begin in a standing upright position, balancing on one foot, with a crossed line on the ground beside you. Jump into each section on the same foot in a crisscross pattern. While doing the exercise, do not let your knee collapse inward as you land from each jump, and keep your foot facing forward.


Standing in an upright position with your hands on your hips and feet positioned shoulder width apart, step forward and lower your body towards the ground, then in a controlled motion, carefully return to the starting position. While doing the exercise, do not let your knee collapse inward and keep your trunk steady.

Standing Quad Stretch

Standing in an upright position on one leg, reach back and pull the opposite foot up toward your body and push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in front of your thigh (to maintain balance, you may hold the wall or a chair). Be sure to keep your thighs aligned with each other and the bent leg in line with the hip. Repeat on the opposite side. To increase the stretch, keep your knees together and push your hips forward. This stretch should be held between 10 and 30 seconds.

Standing Calf Stretch

Face a wall and keep approximately a foot’s distance from it. Extend one leg straight behind you, keeping your heels flat on the ground and your rear knee straight. Begin to lean toward the wall until you feel tension in the calf muscle of the extended leg. Hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Kneel on the ground with one knee bent in front of your body and make sure the bottom of your foot is flat on the ground. Tighten your abdominals, tilt your pelvis backward and gently shift your weight forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip. Hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.

Butterfly Stretch

While in an upright seated position on the ground, bring the soles of your feet together to form a diamond shape and gently pull your heels towards you while also easing your knees to the ground. Be sure to sit upright and place your hands on the top of your feet. Hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds.

Lower Back Twist Stretch

Lay flat on the ground with your knees bent and feet resting on the ground. Extend both arms out to form a ‘T’ position. Keeping your back flat and shoulders on the ground, gently rotate your knees down towards the ground until you feel a stretch in your trunk. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. When performing this stretch, be sure not to lift your shoulders off the ground when rotating your knees.

IT Band Stretch

Begin sitting on the ground with your legs bent to one side. Take your top leg and cross it over your opposite knee. Using your hands, hug your knee to your chest and hold this position. Hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

While in a seated position, fully extend your legs keeping your feet together and bend forward at your hips until you feel a stretch in the back of your thighs and hold. Be sure to tuck your chin towards your chest and hold this stretch between 10 and 30 seconds.

These stretches should take no longer than 20 minutes, conditional to age and fitness levels. Remember, stretching is your last opportunity to prep your body before taking to the field, so incorporating these techniques into your pre-game warm up will get your body to the levels required to meet the demands of the sport and deliver that bomb between the sticks.