Monday, March 28, 2011

Shall We Dance? Dancing at Retirement

Physical fitness in seniors is even more important for their well-being than for younger people because of the multiple effects it has on muscular, cardiovascular and bone health. Weight-bearing exercises, aerobic activities and muscle-building activities help seniors to decrease their risks for various illnesses, ailments and accidents, and they improve their quality of life. Dancing creates workouts that provide a variety of physical benefits that can help you to keep feeling your best.

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Cardiovascular Fitness

The American Heart Association recommends at least moderately intense exercise for 20 minutes, three times per week to maintain heart health in adults. While seniors may no longer be able to jitterbug the way they once did, even dancing at a moderate pace is an effective, low-impact way to raise your heart rate and keep it elevated. A study by an Italian heart institute found that study participants who danced three times per week improved oxygen health by 18 percent. Partner dancing and solo-style dancing, like the twist, provides full-body movements to create an aerobic workout. Improved heart health from dancing helps to decrease the risks for diseases and conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke.

Bone Density

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends dancing as one way to improve bone health. Dancing is a weight-bearing exercise, a category of exercise that puts weight on your bones, and includes activities as simple as walking. Weight-bearing exercise like dancing creates bone/muscle/tendon interactions that help to increase bone density, which begins to decrease in our 30s. As women begin to produce less estrogen, osteoporosis becomes an even bigger concern, with fractures likely to occur for 50 percent of women and 20 percent of men over the age of 50 during their lifetime.

Flexibility and Balance

When you exercise with activities like dance, you stretch your muscles, improving flexibility. Improved flexibility helps you to continue to be successful in healthful sports and activities like tennis, golf or swimming. In addition, dancing requires balance, and improvements in balance help to decrease falls and injury. Studies by the University of Missouri found that seniors using dance as therapy improved both balance and gait.

In other, year-long study, one group of 66 elderly people followed the music-based approach for six months, while another group of 68 followed normal exercise activities.  Swiss doctors noted a 50% reduction in falls when groups of over-65s exercised to music for an hour each week over six months.  At the mid-point of the study, the groups switched over so that the second group followed the music-based exercise program for the next six months while the initial group returned to normal exercise. The benefits were still apparent six months later, the study in Archives of Internal Medicine. UK experts said this was more proof that exercise could help prevent falls. - walking speed and stride length also increased in those participating. During the six months of exercising to music, there was half the number of falls expected in both groups.  

Psychological Benefits

Life at retirement might lead to the social withdrawal, especially if you are living alone with no family or friends close by. An elderly person can be very lonely under these circumstances and this can lead to many other complications. Many therapists and doctors have found that dance therapy can be quite successful with the elderly as it gives them an opportunity to meet other people, have social interactions, touch other people and also get touched to avoid touch deprivation consequences so wide spread in our technocratic society.

Just the fact that elderly people can touch and hug their dance partners helps them to get over their feeling of loneliness and of being isolated from the rest of world. Dancing helps to stop social withdrawal, boosts creativity and builds self-esteem in elders.

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Ballroom Dancing

Ballroom dancing remains the favorite type of activities for elderly, since many seniors cut learned ballroom dancing many decades ago, and these activities reminds them their youth, and add the warm and happy memories of the past to the current situation. There is no substitute for a good Foxtrot, good old Waltz, or even a Rumba.

A medical study of elderly men and women over age 75 concludes what ballroom dance fans have always known - their favorite activity is great for health and happiness. The complexity and moving with the music lower the risk of dementia, the researchers say. Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City studied 469 people over age 75 and found that ballroom dancing was associated with a lowered risk of dementia. The mentally challenging aspects of dancing -- following complex dance steps, moving in time and staying with the rhythm of music -- is believed to be responsible. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the last few years, many prominent medical research centers have announced clinical studies highlighting the benefits of a regular program of ballroom dance both for fitness and battling Alzheimer's.

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Unconditional Dancing

Ballroom Dancing is not for everyone. Some cannot make themselves to learn new moves or styles, which they never used to dance in younger years. Other people see a limitation in necessity to have a partner. And there are some, like I am, who has distinctive “dancing dyslexia”. When I am shown new moves, the efforts to follow these instructions just lead to a great deal of un-satisfaction and headache.

If you can affiliate yourself with one of these groups, there is a good solution for you, I would say, there is a Great Solution for you. It is Unconditional Dancing. Based on the term, you can dance as you like, you can dance as you can, you can dance alone, with partner, or in group of 3 or 4. No conditions and no rules, just those you have inside.

In a way, it is not a dance, but some sort of moving meditation, when you let go your thoughts and worries, and let your body lead you, wherever it likes. You feel tired – get a rest, lie on the floor, feel other people joy and internal freedom and join your spirit with the people around you. There is no limitation to the age or physical abilities, because you are the one how establish the guidelines.

There are multiple directions you can explore, like ecstatic dancing, trans dancing, 5 rhythms dancing, contact improvisation, and so on, and you can find the one that exactly fits your body and spirit needs. I will present in more details my favorite – 5 rhythms dancing, which became my personal passion for the last year.

The class begins with a warm-up in our own way then the teacher will guide us through a process of checking in with each of our body parts before working through the five rhythms of;
  • Flowing
  • Staccato
  • Chaos
  • Lyrical
  • Stillness

We usually dance in our bare feet and in comfortable clothing and drink plenty of water! The sequence of rhythms is maximizing the ability to relax and clean the mind, and by the time you get to the last stage, you feel absolutely refreshed and rejuvenated. Give it a try, and may be you will get hocked to that!

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