October 15, 2019

When was the last time you laced up your dancing shoes? Maybe you were inspired to hit the dance floor at a wedding or holiday party. Or perhaps you remember a time when dancing wasn’t just for special occasions—when everyone knew how to dance the waltz, polka, twist, and Charleston.

Social dancing is much less common nowadays, which is a shame because dancing offers so many benefits to people of all ages. Not only is dancing fun, but it’s also an aerobic workout that helps to improves strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination. Moreover, recent research has found that dancing is a way to keep our minds sharp as we get older.

Let’s take a closer look at how older adults can dance their way to better health and well-being:

Brain health benefits of dancing

It’s well known that physical exercise is a way to prevent and slow the rate of age-related cognitive decline. But according to recent research, dancing may have even more powerful effects than other types of exercise.

In one study, older adults were split into two groups to test the impact of different types of physical exercise on brain health over an 18-month period. The first group participated in a traditional fitness program consisting of repetitive exercises such as walking or cycling. The second group was assigned to a dance class, where they learned new dance steps and routines each week.

At the end of the 18-month period, the participants were given an MRI scan, which revealed that both groups had an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This part of the brain is prone to age-related decline and plays a key role in memory, learning, and balance. However, it was only the dance group that showed a noticeable improvement in balance. This difference led researchers to believe that dancing has more brain health benefits for aging adults compared to other forms of exercise.

In another study, older adults who were already experiencing mild cognitive impairment participated in one ballroom dancing class a week over a 10-month-long period. At the end of the study, the older adults reported significant improvements in their memory and thinking.

Because dancing combines memory, coordination, and focus with aerobic physical activity, it’s an ideal way to exercise our minds and bodies at the same time. For this reason, dancing is often used as a treatment and enrichment activity for people living with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia and memory loss.

Other health benefits of dancing

Along with boosting brain function, dancing offers several positive health benefits for older adults, including:

  • Improved strength and balance
  • Reduced joint pain and stiffness
  • Increased flexibility, mobility, and coordination
  • Reduced symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety
  • Greater self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Weight management
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol

What type of dance is best for older adults?

With so many different styles of dance, it can be difficult to know where to start! We recommend joining a dance class catered to older adults, which can be a fun way to socialize and meet new people in a friendly, inviting environment. Just be sure to talk with your doctor before trying any new exercise regimen.

Here are some dance and dance-inspired fitness classes older adults may wish to try:

Bethany Village residents in a Line Dancing class

Line dancing

Line dancing is a form of low-impact dance exercise that’s great for beginners. This style of dance is most commonly done in large groups, but there are no partners required. Line dancing steps are made to be simple and repetitive. Sometimes, the steps are even called out in the lyrics of the song, making it easy to follow along. Many retirement communities now offer line dancing classes as part of their weekly or monthly programming for residents.

Ballroom dance

Ballroom dancing might sound intimidating, but it’s more beginner-friendly than you may think. You might already be familiar with some ballroom styles such as the waltz, hustle, swing, cha-cha, or salsa. Most ballroom dances are done with a partner, which encourages social interaction among older adults. Another bonus of ballroom dancing is the emphasis on posture. Ballroom dancers need to hold their partner in a proper “frame” that builds core strength and balance.

Square dancing     

Square dancing, which originated from early folk dancing, typically involves a group of four couples arranged in a square formation. Dancers learn a set of basic movements, which can be combined in any order. A “caller” directs the dancers through a sequence of the steps as the music is playing, giving instructions such as “do-si-do” and “promenade.” Listening to the cues and executing them in time with the music requires concentration, which helps to keep aging minds sharp.

Ballet-based “barre” exercise

“Barre” classes are a fairly new workout trend that incorporates elements of ballet, Pilates, and yoga. Special slippers, leotards, and tutus are not required. Instead, class participants wear comfortable exercise clothes and socks or bare feet and hold onto a ballet barre for stability. The classes typically focus on core strength, with exercises targeting the abs, glutes, inner thighs, and arms. Some classes may use hand weights or resistance bands for added strength training. Unlike an actual ballet class, there’s no jumping, spinning, or fast-paced movements, making “barre” classes a great form of low-impact exercise for older adults.

Cardio drumming

Another emerging trend in senior fitness is cardio drumming, which involves using drumsticks to create rhythmic beats on an exercise ball “drum.” Participants are challenged to drum along to high-energy music and follow the instructor’s choreography, which can involve dance movements. Because many of the exercises are done while seated, those in wheelchairs can participate, too!

If you’ve never tried dancing before, there’s no time like the present. You don’t need formal training to reap the many benefits of dance. Many senior centers and retirement communities offer fun-filled dance classes and dance-inspired activities designed specifically for older adults. No matter what style of dance you try, the most important thing to do is have fun!