Getting on the dance floor regularly can give elders a better sense of balance. According to a new study, elders who participated in a half hour of ballroom dancing (three days a week for three months) had a 50 percent improvement in balance and fewer falls. Dances included the foxtrot, waltz, rumba, swing, samba and bolero.
With aging, muscles weaken and sensory mechanisms that help sustain balance decline. This can lead to falls as well as limiting a person’s physical activity. Remaining sedentary just accelerates the loss of strength and balance. Regular doses of dancing, however, can help reverse this decline by increasing leg strength, and lowering one’s risk of falling.
Benefits of Dancing
- Dancing is generally a safe activity, even for frail elders. Even if an individual hasn’t danced before, it’s easy to pick up.
- Elders enjoy dancing workouts. Dancing is a natural type of exercise because many elders have enjoyed music earlier in their lives. Music has a stimulating effect on the desire to dance.
- Dancing helps stimulate the brain and is good for brain health. Dancing requires complex mental coordination. This has benefits ranging from memory improvement to strengthened neural connections.
- The Latin-style dance program known as Zumba improves mood and certain cognitive skills, such as visual recognition and decision-making.
- Dancing reduces stress by increasing the levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin.
- Dancing helps develop new neural connections in the brain, especially in regions involved in executive function, long-term memory and spatial recognition.
- Dancing is therapeutic for persons with Parkinson’s disease. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include bradykinesia (slowed movement), stiffness of the limbs and trunk, tremors, and impaired balance and coordination. It is these symptoms that dance helps alleviate.
Frail elders often have limited opportunities for physical activity. As a result, it’s important to find ways for them to exercise in order to preserve their strength and balance. Watching elders dancing and spinning with autonomy, balance and a cognitive awareness of their space and body helps understand why dancing is both a beneficial and pleasant exercise.
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Rein Tideiksaar Ph.D., PA-C (or Dr. Rein as he is commonly referred to) is the president of FallPrevent, LLC, Blackwood, N.J., a consulting company that provides educational, legal and marketing services related to fall prevention in the elderly. Dr. Tideiksaar is a gerontologist (healthcare professional who specializes in working with elderly patients) and a geriatric physician's assistant. Check out Dr. Rein’s professional profile on LinkedIn:http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dr-rein/6/759/592. If you have any questions about preventing falls, please feel free to email Dr. Rein firstname.lastname@example.org.