The television show "Dancing with the Stars" is a huge success, but the greatest winners (even for all the non-winners on the show) are those that actually practice and then perform the dances. And why are even the losers the eventual winners? Quite simply, because of all the exercise that is required. Of course, that's the logical answer, yet there is much more to dance than meets the eye ... and it may directly affect you and those you work with.
Catherine Cram, a physiologist of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting in Middleton, Wis., ways, "Once someone gets to the point where they're getting their heart rate up, they're actually getting a terrific workout." Yet even if someone were to meet the USDA's physical activity guidelines of getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous daily activity, there are other significant benefits to "dancing for your health."
The Mayo Clinic suggests that dancing:
• Reduces stress.
• Increases energy.
• Improves strength.
• Increases muscle tone and coordination.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests that dancing can:
• Lower your risk of coronary heart disease.
• Decrease blood pressure.
• Help you manage your weight.
• Strengthen the bones of your legs and hips.
As important as these benefits are to our overall health, the most amazing finding came from The New England Journal of Medicine several years ago. Joe Verghese, M.D., and his team studied 469 people aged 75 and older. These folks were first put through their paces with some preliminary testing, then asked to dance (of course, some were not asked to dance as part of the study). Nearly five years later, of the 469 participants, 124 had some form of dementia. Those participants who danced regularly showed a reduced risk of dementia.
"Of the 11 physical activities considered, only dancing was tied to a lower dementia risk," Verghese said.
Here in the Vail Valley, we have a number of resources for dancing, and not just for seniors. We are lucky enough to have the Vail Valley Academy of Dance, where many styles of dance are taught. Anne Powell, the Academy's director, believes that dance enriches a person's life, establishes healthy habits, and provides people with tools, both physically and mentally, that can be used throughout everyone's life. Powell also points out that dance keeps our neuro-pathways acute and our brains agile as we challenge ourselves and our bodies to recall movements, timing, and spatial awareness.
Anne is not alone in her beliefs. The University of Missouri has conducted studies whereby researchers found that participation in dance-based therapy can improve balance, gait, and improve functionality. In older adults, this lends itself to decreasing their risk of falling and reduces the chance of costly injuries.
Another dance resource available to us here in the valley is Colin Meiring. Meiring teaches dance at CMC and the Vail Valley Academy of Dance. Meiring is a very big advocate for dance in our schools. He said that while our schools teach our youth to use their brains, it's most often only from the neck and above. He informs his students and everyone who will listen, that it is imperative that we use our brain and body in harmony. In teaching ballroom dance to seniors of the Valley, Meiring notices that muscle memory and the fluidity in which the foot and brain communicate become more seamless over time.
Dancing can not only be a source of television entertainment, but can (and should) be a form of physical activity that all of us can engage in, as the benefits are clearly evident.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. His contact information is: www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.