Children who are taught to swim early in life do better at school later in life. This knowledge came from an enormous study of Australian and New Zealand children. So what does swimming do? It gets rhythmic, controlled breathing happening. It makes gets left-right coordination of the brain happen. It strengthens all the connective tissue from and to many parts of the brain, across the hemispheres, and from the top (cortical) to the bottom (sub-cortical). There are other activities that do all of this as well. Dancing! Dance has been shown to improve motor, cognitive, and mental functions as well as quality of life in people with Parkinson’s disease. What this tells us is that even in older people, the wonderful plasticity of the brain keeps on keeping on.
One premmie mum told me about how her little daughter learns ballet and what it does for her. It gives her pleasure, is all pink and girly, improves her core strength (a common problem with premmies) and motor coordination. It is also doing lots of wonderful things to her brain.
Hackney, M.E. & Earhart, G.M. (2010). Effects of dance on gait and balance in Parkinsons Disease. Clinical Neurology.