Get Up and Dance!

September 27, 2012

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We all know by now that aerobic exercise is paramount to keeping in good physical shape as we age. But it’s also no secret that the minute some folks think of exercise, they’d rather just sit down in their chairs and forget it. Depressing, they say. Exercise takes effort. Have you considered dancing?!

Have you ever thought of dancing your way to fitness?

Thirty minutes a day of movement, that’s what the Mayo Clinic recommends. We all know about some of the popular ways to get aerobic exercise:

Aerobic exercise classes
Low-impact aerobics
Swimming
Walking
Jogging
Gardening
Tai Chi
Water exercise classes
Golfing
But there’s another way to keep fit that doesn’t always come to mind. Dancing!

Aw, you say. I have two left feet and I was never any good at it. Well, you don’t have to be good at it. Get some comfortable shoes, put on your favorite music and dance around the room! If you’re shy, pull the drapes (be sure to have the room well lighted, though) so you have no walk-by gawkers looking at you.

Put on your favorite Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movie and start moving. Or listen to Elvis or the Beetles. Oops, get that furniture out of the way. If you’re in a wheel chair or can’t move your legs, you may move your arms to the music or dance back and forth with your chair.

A balance of strength, flexibility and endurance all come into play when you’re dancing. There’s no restriction on age or fitness level. Do a bit of dancing; make the bed, dance some more, walk, etc. Or spend your entire time just enjoying the music and twirling around the room. Take it easy, no falling down allowed.
Get the okay from your doctor and have a ball. If you want a bit more challenge, join a dance class and get started on the road to a healthier you. Local parks, senior centers, activity centers in retirement housing, community colleges and dance studios all may have classes you’ll enjoy.

Dancing is not innate and most folks have to learn how to do it. Get a book and/or dancing video at the library and dance at home for starters. Teach yourself the cha cha. Then when you get a bit braver, get your friends together or talk to your activity director and hire a dance instructor. No partner needed for the two-step. Maybe your enjoyment stems from square dancing, which you haven’t done since the loss of your partner. Take it up again. There are lots of people just like you who would gladly join you.

Did you know that active normal-weight adults lose only about 7% of their aerobic capacity by age 70? Aerobic activity, in most people, decreases to about half of your 20-year-old level by age 80. But when you dance or do other aerobic activity, your odds are much better for staying fit.

You also benefit other ways. Tap dancing may help you improve your concentration level. You certainly gain better balance and achieve a longer attention span when you are dancing and learning new steps. Your stress floats away — your anxiety disappears. You achieve better muscle tone, for sure. Your endurance level shoots up, your flexibility increases and your range of motion improves. Exercise doesn’t always have to be work or regimented. There are benefits to any bit of exercise you may get.

If you like joining and like regiment, read on.

Dr. Peter Vaitkevicious, John Hopkins University gerontologist, was a lead author in a study of the benefits of exercise on seniors. People, aged 61-91, were given a regimen of regular exercise for six months. They all had chronic, congestive heart failure. After riding stationary bikes and walking treadmills they doubled their aerobic capacity and increased their muscle strength.

Vaitkevicious was quoted in the John Hopkins University Study as saying, “This is essentially unheard of, to see people improve to this degree. We had a few individuals who were limited to wheelchairs or sitting in their Laz-E-Boy the entire time improve to the point of getting up and driving a car again or vacuuming their apartment.”

Amazing, hmm? You can get fit, too, and also see improved benefits with dance.

But formal learning is not required. Remember when you were a kid and danced around the room any time you heard music? Get that feeling of freedom back. Have a good time being a kid again!

Be fit and have fun at the same time. It’s never too late to start. One little step at a time.

Dance!

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