Timeless Benefits of Dance
The benefits of dance are well documented. As the population is aging, the age-defying benefits of dance are becoming even more well documented. The physical advantages dancing provides in terms of sustained strength, mobility and balance are relatively obvious. However, new research indicates how dancing is having an impact on physically debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s and cognitive age-related issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Another not so obvious benefit is the effect dance has in curing loneliness and unhappiness, prevalent fears among aging adults.
A research article in the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience journal followed 130 participants, aged 65 and older, doing Greek traditional dances for 75 minutes, twice a week, for 32 weeks. Each participant completed the Fullerton Senior Fitness Test (a comprehensive battery of tests assessing physical fitness in adults 60-plus) before the 32 weeks and again, after that period, if they completed 80 percent of the dance sessions.
A significant increase was observed in participants’ leg strength which increases the ability to climb stairs and reduces the risk of falls. The flexibility of the participants was shown to have increased as well, as measured by the Sit and Reach Test and the Back-Scratch Test, both important, as scoring higher on these tests foretells less low back pain and a wider range of shoulder motion in the future.
A more recent study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports followed over 1000 older Japanese women for eight years. Those participating in frequent dancing had the least incidents of disability. Less disability means increased capability to be a vital participant in life which leads to increased mental and emotional benefits.
The cognitive and physical leisure activities of more than 400 persons, age 75-plus, were tracked for a span of 21 years. A study looking at these activities and their effects on the risk of dementia in the elderly was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The cognitive leisure activities included pastimes such as reading, crossword puzzles or playing an instrument. Physical leisure activities included swimming, walking and dancing, among others. The results of the study indicated that no physical activity offered any protection against dementia, including Alzheimer’s, except for dancing.
The reason for this is dancing, and more so freestyle dancing, requires rapid decision making versus following a predetermined set of steps. If a situation is automatic, intelligence is not as needed, but rapid decision making requires intelligence and creates more neural pathways. In the words of Richard Powers, a dance professor at Stanford University, “Intelligence—use it or lose it.”
Jan Garde, the founder of the Embassies of Good Living, a global co-living/co-retiring concept, states that “Loneliness kills more people than smoking and drunk driving combined… and ranks as the biggest fear of people age 70 and older.”
One of the overlooked benefits of dancing is the impact it has on our emotional and social well-being. Dancing, like other physical activity, releases endorphins—the feel-good hormones. These endorphins help reduce stress and feelings of depression. Powers also stated that “Those who fully utilize their intelligence in dancing, at all levels, love the way it feels.”
Most dancing is also done in a social setting—a class, club or party. This has the added advantage of getting isolated seniors into a more social atmosphere and making connections.
The studies clearly show: to confront the debilitating physical effects of aging—dance. To head off cognitive degeneration—dance. To ward off loneliness and depression often associated with senior citizens—dance. To defy age, above all else—dance.
Robin Gast is a certified GROOVE facilitator. She left her corporate job of 23 years to share her passion for dance and to introduce Minnesota to The World GROOVE Movement. To learn more, call 612-276-5625 or visit AeroDanceFitness.com. See ad, page 25.