If you thought of dance as exercise, you might not want to do it anymore—like when a 13-year-old child realizes that mowing the lawn is a chore that must be done, all the fun is taken out of it.
But dance is one of the best exercises there is and there are no rules, no other required players, and no age limits.
The health benefits are many—not only for people in their twenties at the club, but for any age.
A University of Missouri study published in the journal Geriatric Nursing documented the gait speed of thirty-seven seniors with an average age of 80.6 years before and after receiving dance therapy.
The dance program is called The Lebed Method (TLM) and employs a combination of low-impact dance steps. Over a twelve-week period, these seniors with lower-extremity stiffness participated in a total of nineteen to twenty-four dance sessions; at the end, a statistically significant increase in gait speed resulted. The importance of gait speed in older people translates to general mobility, balance, and, therefore, independence.
TLM, which is also known as Healthy Steps, was designed in 1979 by Sherry Lebed Davis and her brothers, Drs. Joel and Marc Lebed, while their mother was recuperating from mastectomy as the result of breast cancer. They wanted to get her moving and enjoying herself again, becoming healthy in both body and mind. They found the program to be successful and brought it to hospitals and medical centers in the Philadelphia area to use as therapy for cancer patients. The research at the University of Missouri was the first to apply the program for seniors’ therapy.
Back to dance as exercise. As with any exercise, once you add musical accompaniment, the brain focuses less on exertion as it is distracted by the music. Your workouts are longer, more intense, and you forget about physical pain. Exercise becomes less of a chore and—shall we say it?—fun.
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For seniors, the whole group of factors around dance remains the same as for anyone younger: there is the music, physical activity, social interaction, and general fun—all of which contribute to better physical and mental health. For older individuals, the types of exercise that are feasible are more limited than younger people due to physical limitations but everyone can dance—if confined to a wheelchair, the rest of your body can dance even if, at its extreme, only in your mind.
Movement is important for everyone—and even more so for seniors. The more mobile someone is, the better the quality of life. To put that movement to music is, as always, even greater motivation:
“Dancing is the loftiest, the most moving, the most beautiful of the arts, because it is not mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself.” – Havelock Ellis
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