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Towson University

Dance To Your Health
By Kimberly Parody

Ballroom dancing is an excellent form of enjoyment for some senior citizens and also an ideal way to stay in shape.

Physical activity is essential at any age to maintain an active and healthy body. Exercise can be any movement that pumps up the heart and gets you out moving, including dancing.

“You name it, I've done it,” said Anne Lowney, a retired high school teacher, who has danced the waltz, foxtrot, tango, rumba, cha-cha and two-step, dating back to her college years.

Exercise should not be something to dread. One is more likely to stick with activities they like doing.

“Finding activities they will enjoy is how to keep them exercising,” said Cara Jacob, an exercise physiologist at the Towson University Wellness Center.

Ballroom dancing is not part of the exercise program offered at the Wellness Center, but it provides an abundance of health benefits similar to programs at the center geared towards physical fitness. Another plus of dancing is that it is more exciting than other forms of activities.

“Any of the arts, dancing, singing, painting, are ways to get feelings out,” said Lowney. “Dancing is sort of a form of expression.”

For Lowney, dancing is a way for her to relax while also exercising. She says she is not like some people her age who “sit on their butts and do not do anything.”

The Wellness Center works with the community to make sure exercise is a part of the lives of their clients. According to Jacob, their LIFEWORx program for cardiac rehabilitation consists of ages ranging from 40 to 85.

“So many problems happen when you get older,” said Jacob. “There is a loss of strength, loss of balance, loss of flexibility and osteoporosis, especially in women.”

Any type of exercise, whether it is on a gym machine or the dance floor, is beneficial for all ages, including senior citizens. Without exercise, bodies will fall apart as people get older.

“Dancing helps with balance and posture,” said Jacob, who makes her patrons stand up straight if they are slumping over a treadmill.

Along with making one stand up straight, “Ballroom will help to prevent osteoporosis because it is a weight-bearing activity, putting stress on bones making them stronger,” said Jacob.

Jacob and other physicians feel that moderate levels of exercise three to five days per week will reduce the chance of many health complications due to growing older. AARP lists positive advantages of moderate levels of exercise, many very similar to what Jacob says about the benefits of ballroom dancing for people over 50 years of age.

AARP states that ballroom will:

  • “Strengthen bones and muscles without hurting your joints
  • Tone your entire body
  • Improve your posture and balance, which can prevent falls
  • Increase your stamina and flexibility
  • Reduce stress and tension
  • Build confidence
  • Provide opportunities to meet people
  • Ward off illnesses, like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis and depression”

Physical health is critically important for a strong body, but mental health is also needed for a strong and active brain. Some senior citizens struggle with their memory abilities every day, and ballroom dancing can help.

Researchers at the New England Journal of Medicine found that regular ballroom dancing can prevent dementia and has shown progress in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Dancing requires listening to the music and remembering dance steps, which according to them, will improve one's memory and stimulate nerve cells to grow.

“The repetitiveness of exercise programs will keep the mind active,” said Jacob, who says that regular exercise of any type that has some sort of pattern is good for the brain.

Another part of mental health is engaging in social relationships. Meeting new people and talking to friends raises one's positive outlook on life.

“A lot of people come here for the social aspect of it,” said Jacob. “They tend to stay on the equipment longer when they get talking to someone.”

Ballroom dancing in a social atmosphere is comforting to elderly individuals who like to talk and get out of their house. Jacob says dancing helps with self-esteem problems and depression.

“If they have lost either their wives or husbands, they are not lonely,” said Jacob.

Lowney has faced this situation; she does not dance as frequently as she used to.

“When my husband was alive, we went every weekend,” said Lowney, who generally goes ballroom dancing with a group of friends. “Now, I go to various events that are held.”

Singles are always welcomed at ballrooms. At many venues, lessons are taught rotating throughout the men and women, so everyone gets an opportunity to meet and dance.

“If I have a good leader, I will follow,” said Lowney, about the gentlemen she dances with. “I like dancing with a partner because someone is leading.”

Lowney is one senior citizen who enjoys being around people and socializing outside of her home. Her main reason to ballroom dance is not because she wants exercise; she dances for the enjoyment it brings to her life and the exercise is extra.

In order to keep busy, Lowney substitute teaches during the day. According to her, she is a fun teacher, so all the students want her to attend their school dances to dance with them.

Dancing is her passion, along with ballroom dancing, Lowney has done polka dancing, line dancing and now she even takes belly dancing. Lowney has a sense of humor about how good she used to be at dancing.

Lowney says her and her husband loved to dance and other people could see that. “I was so good that many women would ask if they could dance with my husband.”

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