Given the right type of music, even the most reserved or unco-ordinated of us can usually be persuaded onto the dance floor to “shake our stuff”. Dancing can be enjoyed regardless of an individual’s age or background, disability, shape, size or experience. It can be performed as part of a group or alone but, whichever way it is practised, it can benefit health and well-being in lots of different ways.
Social moving and shaking
Different types of dance can lead to different forms of social interaction e.g., ballroom dancing allows couples to interact with one another away from the rest of the group whereas line and folk dances allow for simultaneous interaction within the group. Mixers, where individuals perform short dances with numerous different partners, ensure short associations with everyone participating in the dance session.1 Any of these interactions could reduce feelings of isolation and exclusion and help to improve self-confidence.2
With dance steps that shift from one leg to another, turning and twirling can have positive functional effects when it comes to walking and balance. Research suggests that, long term, social dancing may be associated with better balance and gait in older adults, including a longer stride, a more stable pattern during walking with reduced stance time and longer 'swing' time, and reduced double (leg) support time.3
Low-impact line dance
The low-impact nature of many dance styles, such as line dancing, makes it more suitable and accessible for those with joint issues, such as arthritis.
One study determined that a 16-week dance-based aerobic exercise programme showed no adverse effects on disease activity (as assessed by a physician). Participants in the study reported a decrease in pain and swelling, increased walking speed and decreased depression. Lower extremity function also reportedly increased, as did perceptions of general health. Therefore, dance-based exercise may be a useful rehabilitation strategy for people with different forms of arthritis. Expectation is that it may heighten the life quality of the individual with this condition.4
Other research suggests that low-impact aerobic dance can be an effective type of activity for improving functional fitness in older women.5
Happy hokey cokey
The social interaction, achievable activity and moderate physical exertion of dance can have a positive effect on mental health, including that of individuals diagnosed with depression. Participation feedback from older individuals with depression indicated that ballroom dance lessons were enjoyable and well-received.6 Research also suggests that attendance at weekly dance and movement classes for eight months led to significant positive changes in life satisfaction.7
Most dance steps involve a comfortable and functional range of movement, so could be useful in helping to maintain a range of movement in major joints without worsening joint conditions like arthritis.4
If you are considering joining dance style exercise classes, start at your own pace and move on to the harder, more complicated stuff once you are confident. One study suggests that, in order to adhere to an exercise programme (particularly for older women) you should aim for 'mastery experiences' (i.e., the ability to succeed at something) as well as those with physical and mental benefits which allow for social interaction and stress reduction.8
So, join a group which is relaxed, well structured, with clearly taught sessions that build up the steps gradually and logically at a speed that you can follow.
Vicky Hatch is a fitness professional with a particular interest in specialist populations such as aqua, pregnancy, older adults and GP referral. For details, go to www.exacttraining.co.uk
For a list of references and resources visit www.fitpro.com/references
This feature was first printed in the August/September 2009 issue of Fitpro magazine.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Fitness Professionals Ltd or Virtual Magazine. Consult a qualified health or fitness professional before making changes to your diet or exercise.