No wonder so many of us love to dance. It’s a good time, it feels good and it’s good for us. And yet another study indicates that the health benefits of dancing might extend as we age.
After four months of salsa and other Latin dances, Latino adults in their mid-60s walked with more pep in their steps and showed improvement in their physical fitness, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The research randomly split the 54 participants into two groups with some taking dance classes twice a week and the others participating in a health education program. All of them participated in a 400-meter walk at the beginning and end of the study and completed a questionnaire.
The dancers had better outcomes than the other group. By the end of the study, they were walking 38 seconds faster, completing the walk in 392 seconds compared to 430 seconds at the beginning. They also increased their leisure physical activity by 168 minutes, from 650 minutes to 818 minutes each week.
Such an intervention could impact public health, said Priscilla Vásquez, M.P.H., lead author of the study, which was presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions.
“Anecdotally, I’ve heard participants say attending dance class is their stress relief,” Vásquez said in a statement. “They also interact with others and build community. This impacts their physical as well as emotional health and well-being.”
The researchers used a dance program called Bailamos with choreography that became progressively more challenging and that incorporated merengue, bachata, cha cha cha and salsa. They would also like to test the program’s impact to on mild cognitive impairment.
“We are interested in using magnetic resonance imaging to see if dancing positively affects their brains,” said Vásquez, whose research was funded in part by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Lottie Joiner, a certified Jazzercise instructor in the Washington area who has taken belly-dancing and Salsa lessons, has witnessed the benefits of dance personally and among her students.
“For those who don’t like treadmills or weight machines, boot camps or running, dance is a great alternative cardio workout,” Joiner says. “If you do the right one you will burn just as many calories as other high intensity physical activities.”
“Dance has helped me lose and maintain weight,” says Joiner, also citing the mood-enhancing benefits from the release of endorphins through dance and other physical activity.
“How many mad folks do you see dancing?”
“Think about it: For one hour, you can leave behind the pressures of work, family obligations or that sudden financial burden and dance like no one’s watching.
“Dance is about community. It’s about finding your own rhythm of life and moving to the beat of your own drum.”