- Adult & Community Enrichment
DANCING FOR FITNESS AT ANY AGE - July 2021
DANCING FOR FITNESS AT ANY AGE
When the radio starts to play something with a beat, do you tap your feet and bob your head—almost without realizing it? Well, we’re here to say: Don’t fight it! Let loose! Dancing is one of the best forms of exercise you can do to stay healthy. Dancing is an all-around workout that exercises all parts of your body and affects all of your major systems. Whether you like to waltz or samba or power down to a Reggaeton beat, you can’t beat dancing for an all-around benefits smorgasbord. Plus, it just feels good! The best part is, you can enjoy dancing no matter what your age or body type. Do you like it slow and meditative? Try Yoga Trance/Dance. Or fast and rhythmic? How about Hip-Hop? Want to dance with a partner? Social Dancing is healthy, too. Whatever your favorite beat, there’s a dance style out there ready for you. Following are just a few of the many benefits of taking to the dance floor:
Dancing is Good for Your Heart
Cardio is “where it’s at” for most dance fitness routines! Even social dancing builds endurance and will have you breathing more deeply in no time. A study published in the journal Circulation found that, in a group of 130 patients with stable chronic heart failure, waltz dancing was a safe form of aerobic exercise. In the study, patients alternated 5 minutes slow and 3 minutes fast periods of dancing for a total of 21 minutes – essentially, a safe form of interval training. After 8 weeks, dancers demonstrated increased endurance, stronger heart muscles, and expressed greater life satisfaction. Most dance classes contain elements of cardio, but if you want to go all-out, try Latin, Hip-Hop, Afro-Cuban, Zumba, Jazzercise, LaBlast, TurboJam, or Bokwa—a program based on South African rhythms that blends high-energy cardio-respiratory, muscular, and flexibility moves, according to experts.
Dancing is Good for Your Bones & Joints
Dancing is a weight-bearing activity; that means it is adding bone mass to your skeleton incrementally, making your bones and joints stronger. Combined with a healthy diet that includes calcium and vitamin D (talk to your doctor or a nutritionist), you might help yourself avoid osteoporosis later in life. Exercising your joints keeps them limber and strong, and regular exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness. In a small St Louis Medical Center study of 34 residents of a senior apartment complex (average age 80), participants were able to decrease the amount of pain medication they took by 39% after 12 weeks of a program of low-impact dance therapy.
Dancing Helps You Breathe More Deeply
How are you breathing right now? If you’re sitting down reading this, chances are, you’re taking small, shallow breaths. Most of us breathe like this all day, because we sit in the same position most of the time. Any type of exercise – even if it’s just walking out to the mailbox! – forces us to change our breathing pattern, and that’s a good thing. When we dance, we have to breathe more deeply, drawing more rich oxygen into our lungs and into our bloodstream and exhaling more carbon dioxide. At the same time, we’re stretching our rib cage and back, swinging our arms and legs, and generally loosening up. Doesn’t it feel good to take deep breaths and stretch once in a while?
Dancing Improves Balance and Coordination
Everyone’s body changes as they grow older, and sometimes it takes time to adjust to our new body image. Do we even recognize the person in the mirror? Sometimes trying a different dance style helps with adjusting to a different body size or shape; for example, the Bollywood dance style is enhanced by curvier shapes. Dancing helps to improve self-confidence while improving balance and coordination. An 8-week study reported in Gerontology found that salsa dancing was a good way to help seniors improve postural strength—something that helps prevent falls. Ballet classes are another way to improve balance, as well as core strength and flexibility.
Dancing Lightens Our Mood and Helps With Insomnia
When you hear good news, you might feel like “dancing with joy.” Moving our body is a spontaneous expression of feeling good. Why else would we dance at celebrations such as weddings and graduations? Researchers are studying how dancing affects mood: A 2013 study published in The American Journal of Dance Therapy showed that participants who self-identified as depressed, anxious, or stressed improved after two weeks of tango lessons. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 73. At a one-month follow-up survey, participants were still feeling better. No partner? No problem! Many dance styles don’t require one. It’s the physical movement that makes the difference, not necessarily a particular dance step or style. If you’re feeling a little blue, just turn on the radio to your favorite station and start moving to the music. [Note: Serious depression or anxiety always requires a doctor’s care. Don’t try to diagnose or treat yourself. If you’ve been feeling sad or anxious or unable to sleep well for a couple of weeks or more, please talk to your doctor.]
Dancing May Help Prevent Dementia
The workings of our brain are still a mystery in many ways, including what brings on the scary, complex patterns of memory loss known as dementia. Experts now believe that dancing may help prevent the onset of dementia, because having to think about complicated steps and making many small decisions in a small span of time helps to build new neural pathways. A study of 469 people over age 75 published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that participating in leisure activities such as board games, musical instruments, or sports was important for reduced risk of dementia; dancing was the only physical activity associated with that reduced risk, beating out such common sports activities as swimming, golf, and tennis.
Dancing Can Help You Lose Weight
A 30-minute dance class burns between 130 and 250 calories, about the same as jogging. Your class might go higher or lower, depending on its intensity. Social dancing is a great activity for weight loss, because it is an endurance event! Any high-energy cardio dance class that gives you a full-body workout also qualifies, such as Zumba, hip-hop, pole dancing, or belly dancing. Ballet will target your lower body, while Afro-Cuban dance will target your shoulders and back.
What to Expect in a Dance Class
Always read the course description thoroughly before registering for a class, and if you’re not sure whether it’s right for you, ask to talk to the instructor. Be sure to mention any physical limitations or recent injuries you may have. Ask about what to wear and any accessories you should bring, if that information isn’t mentioned in the course description (for instance, some classes might require bare feet or socks with grips on the bottom). There are dance classes appropriate for participants of all fitness levels. Don’t tough it out and risk injury if you feel ill or uncomfortable.
There are four broad categories of dance fitness classes:
- Cardio dance: for example Latin, reggaeton, hip-hop, social dancing
- Barre workouts: such as ballet
- Mind-body dance: including yoga/trance, Nia
- Sensual workouts: like pole dancing, belly dancing, hula
Dance teachers often change up their choreography to stay fresh and keep up with the times, offering new music and new steps to prevent boredom. Dance class often becomes not only a fitness activity but a social event. However, if you can’t attend a class with others, check out YouTube or rent a DVD from the library. There’s no reason not to try a dance class today!
Written by Patricia Rockwood, Instructor and Staff Writer.