Why Ballroom Dancing is Good for You: Mentally and Physically

By Tai-Hyung Kwon, Ph.D. –

Ballroom Dancing - SarasotaA recent study at the Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University in Bronx showed that dancing reduced the risk of dementia, a brain disorder that includes Alzheimer’s disease affecting 6 to 7 million Americans over the age of 60. The result of the research led by Dr. Joseph Verghese, assistant professor of neurology, was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2003 (Vol. 348,pp 2508-16).

The research involved 469 men and women aged 75 and older, and the time span of 21 years that began in 1980. All participants were screened at the start to ensure that they were free of dementia. The researchers studied lifestyle of each participant to see if he or she engaged in some of the 6 cognitive activities (reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments, taking part in group discussion, and playing board games) and 11 physical activities (dancing, numerous sports, housework, and baby-sitting).

They followed the activities of each for an average of 5.1 years. Among the participants were 130 who danced frequently (3 or 4 times a week), 83 who swam frequently, 26 who bicycled frequently, and 19 who played games frequently.

In the period of study, 124 participants developed dementia: 61 Alzheimer’s disease, 30 vascular dementia, 25 mixed dementia, and 8 other forms of dementia.

The results revealed that frequent cognitive activities reduced the risk of dementia.

There was no big surprise there, for other earlier studies indicated that much. The most surprising result was that, of all the physical activities, dancing was the only activity that reduced the risk of dementia.

The frequency of activities was also an important factor. For example, those who danced 4 times a week showed 76 percent less incidence of dementia than those who did only once a week or not at all. Naturally, the more you dance the greater he benefit you reap–as far as dementia is concerned.

What is so special about ballroom dancing?
“Dance is not purely physical in many ways. It also requires a lot of mental effort,” says Dr. Verghese. Dancers follow complex steps and figures. You have to think about them and remember them. Men have to think about what steps to do next and lead the women. And women have to follow the men, adapting to their movement and to the precise beat of the music. So, dancing keeps your feet and brains on the ball. Dancers do not just move on reflex.

Dancing is a cognitive activity. It requires concentration and thus keeps your brain working harder and longer.

You cannot wear your brains out, scientists say. The more you use them the sharper they get. They are not like kitchen knives that get dull with use. I used to tell my students. “If you struggle to solve a physics problem, that is when your neurons multiply and grow.” So, if you learn a new step or figure, and struggle to remember it, that will keep your brains stimulated and working longer.

If you don’t use your brain, you will lose it. For example, if you sit in front of a TV all day, it will not help. A few years ago Dr. Robert Friedland reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that people who watch an excessive amount of TV in old age ran a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Watching TV or slumbering in front of it does not take much brainwork.

This does not mean the physical part of the dancing is unimportant. Maintaining physical activities becomes all the more important, as you get older.

Recent studies showed that physical and emotional benefits of dancing are countless.

It is no secret that moderate exercise and sensible eating habits are the key to keeping you trim and fit. Besides being a fun social activity, dancing is also an ideal, low impact exercise and also a mild aerobic workout. It can reduce stress, tension, anxiety, and even depression. It increases your confidence in social and business situations, and sharpens your control, agility, speed, and balance. It also increases your flexibility and stamina, strengthens your bones and cardiovascular system, and helps you burn those excess calories.

Some studies indicated that a half hour of sustained dancing can burn as many as 200 to 400 calories. Twenty minutes of dancing can provide as much exercise as 20 minutes of swimming or biking. If you are not sure, try 20 minutes of jitterbug, samba, polka, quickstep or Viennese waltz.

The International Olympic Committee has recently recognized ballroom dancing as DanceSport, an athletic competitive sport. You may have noticed how athletic ballroom dance competitors look. “Ballroom dancing is a rigorous activity that uses large muscle groups,” says Jackie Tally who teaches ballroom dancing at Samford University. “It’s similar to ice skating, and no one would question the athletic ability of an ice skater. A ballroom dancer might be in better shape that a figure skater. A dancer does not get that free glide over the ice; he has to work every step of the way.”

Being a low impact activity, dancing is accessible to people of any age or fitness level-with more emphasis on having fun and less emphasis on going for the burn.

Do you remember how fit and trim Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse looked in those movie musicals? Did you know that Fred Astaire was 88 when he died in 1987. Gene Kelly was 84 when he passed away in 1996, and Cyd Charisse at 83 is still slim and beautiful?

We believe that Yoga and Dance go hand-in-hand. Therefore, recommend a yoga practice as another form of training for the wellness of the dancer. In this day and age when increased work demands give rise to higher and higher levels of nervous tension, the average person’s stress levels during their off-work times have continued to high elevations, even when they are at home, supposedly resting peacefully. Many people are looking for a way to relax and relieve themselves of stress and tension. Finding new forms of exercise can relieve these stresses and tensions and bring new health benefits to life. Yoga health benefits have been increasingly documented for people as a route for holistic well-being. In addition to the healthful benefits that can be found with any increase in activity or exercise level, the yoga health benefits result in increased relaxation, breathing, calmness, decreased stress, and digestive help. When the body is cantered and relaxed, then the person will sleep better, eat better, and digest and process food better, have less headaches, and a more toned musculature. A person will find that yoga health benefits allow a person to feel more at peace with the world around them, more focused, and more socially attuned. When approaching the beginning of the day, facing a full day of work, school, activity, and interactions, the practitioner of yoga will find that having exercised their body, they will have rested their mind.

A rested and healthy body will face stress much better than someone that has not exercised. A rested and healthy body will cope with difficulties and conflicts in a way that keeps a focus on what is important, cantered, and beneficial. Yoga health benefits will steady the physical, as well as the mental, energies of the practitioner, so that peace and harmony are more important than the little irritations of the day. This mental picture will be more sustainable within the person that has practiced a regular, yoga exercise practice for a healthy body. Due to the upcoming season’s increase in dancers, you can find our yoga teacher with Yoga Body & Soul on the second floor of San Marcos Plaza.

Are you ready to Party, Move, Sweat and Burn tons of Calories, while still having fun?
New Walk-in Classes. No Membership fees. All are welcome! No dance experience necessary. The Zumba® program is designed for everyone, all fitness levels and ages. Enjoy exercising in a healthy, fun, party-like atmosphere.

Working out can be lots of things, but it’s never been known to be an exhilarating experience…

Zumba®,an easy-to-follow segment of dance aerobics movements. Latin and Hip Hop inspiration all in one. A fun and easy way to burn calories! Inspired by Latin dance and music, Zumba uses a variety of styles in its routines, including Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia, Reggaeton, Mambo, Rumba, Flamenco, and a Hip Hop. Music selections include both fast and slow movements to help tone and sculpt the body.

Come Join Me for a Class!
Call Arthur Murray® Dance Center today and begin enjoying the fun, relaxation and health benefits of dance! Call us at 941-929-0783 (Sarasota) or 941-209-5966 (Lakewood Ranch) or visit us online at www.ArthurMurraySarasota.com or www.ArthurMurraySanMarcoPlaza.com.

It’s different, It’s easy to do, It’s effective, and It’s fun! It’s the best fun workout you can have!

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