The Health Benefits of Dancing for Seniors

The Health Benefits of Dancing for Seniors

Should you trade in your trainers for dancing shoes?

When we think of ways to stay fit and healthy, dancing may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But studies suggest that dancing is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body — better than weightlifting, walking, cycling, swimming, weightlifting or yoga.

One explanation is that dancing involves a variety of different skills, both mental and physical. Dancing requires balance, strength and endurance. If you’ve ever taken a Zumba class, you know you’ve had a good aerobic workout. Dancing also requires concentration and adaptability to move in sync with the music while adjusting to your partner’s dance moves (and trying not to step on their feet).

So, instead of walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike, change up your routine and give dancing a whirl. You might find yourself feeling like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers.

How dancing benefits your health.

Research shows that dancing can help older adults maintain their ability to perform daily activities on their own, like getting up from a chair. Studies also show that dancing reduces the risk of falling and is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Of course, dancing is also a fun way to exercise, connect with others, and learn a new dance move or two. Let’s take a closer look at the many benefits of dancing for seniors:

Elevates your mood – It’s well documented that exercise boosts your mood. Exercise increases the level of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters. Music also stimulates your brain’s reward centers, releasing dopamine, which affects your happiness. Another benefit of dancing for seniors is that it reduces your stress level and helps you relax. Hitting the dance floor is like hitting the reset button. It makes you feel good because it makes you feel alive.

Even for people with mood disorders, dancing helps make them happy. Researchers in Australia found that just two weeks of tango lessons helped men and women with complaints of stress, anxiety, and depression feel better and reduced insomnia. Simply put, it’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re dancing.

Improves balance – Many studies report that dancing can significantly improve your balance. That’s especially good news for seniors concerned about falling. In one study, just eight weeks of salsa lessons improved seniors’ stride and strength. Findings of improved balanced were echoed in a German study of older adults who danced regularly. Another study at McGill University showed that long-term tango dancing was associated with better balance and gait in older adults.

At The Heritage of Green Hills, women in the belly dancing class say that dancing has improved their balance. They also enjoy dressing up for class and learning about Middle Eastern culture. You can watch Ellen’s video here.

Reduces joint pain and stiffness – Seniors with arthritic joints might want to put on their dancing shoes. Researchers at Saint Louis University organized a 12-week dance program for older adults who reported pain or stiffness in their knees or hips. At the end of the study, participants (mostly women with an average age of 80) were able to walk faster and decrease the amount of pain medication they were taking by 39%.

Improves cardiovascular health – Experts recommend older adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. If you want a change from your normal cardio routine, dancing is a great way to get your heart and lungs pumping. At The Heritage of Green Hills, you’ll find dance classes for every level of fitness, including line dancing, Zumba, water Zumba and tap.

Supports brain health – Dancing improves our ability to think. Like many forms of aerobic exercise, dancing promotes the growth and maintenance of nerve cells in the brain’s memory center. That’s important, because we tend to lose them as we grow older. But there’s more to dancing than helping us remember where we left our keys.

Richard Powers, a member of Stanford University’s dance faculty, says social dancing can make you smarter. “Social dancing such as swing requires constant, split-second decision-making. Because the brain has to work so much, it’s not necessarily retracing the same neural pathways, but instead using new ones,” which improve memory, Powers says.

By learning to dance, we challenge our neural network to make new connections. Neurologists call this cognitive benefit “neuroplasticity.” The key is to constantly challenge your brain to create new neural paths. If you stop trying to learn new things, such as dance steps, your brain won’t make new connections and you won’t get any smarter. You can read more about the health benefits of dancing for seniors here.

Reduces risk of dementia – Regular exercise, mental stimulation, and social contact have all been associated with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Because it involves all three components, dancing can be especially effective in lowering your risk of dementia.

A 21-year study led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that older adults who danced regularly had a 76% reduced risk for developing dementia. The subjects of the study were at least 75 years old and reported engaging in other physical activities such as bicycling, swimming and golf. But dancing was the only physical activity to reduce the risk of dementia.

Improves social connections – It goes without saying that dancing is a great way to meet other people. Dancing with others blurs the barriers your mind erects between yourself and a stranger, helping you feel a sense of connection. Neuroscientists at the University of Oxford found that “mimicry” (like when you’re moving in rhythm with your partner on the dance floor) “causes a positive feedback loop in which people can become increasingly socially close to one another.” In short, dancing brings us together. And that’s a benefit we could all use in our lives.

To learn more about dance classes and other opportunities for putting a spring in your step, check out this month’s activities calendar or attend an event.