The Physical & Mental Benefits of Dance

Astaire and Ginger Rogers made magic dancing in movies during the ’30s, we have known that watching dancers was one of the greatest forms of entertainment. Today’s reality dance TV shows bear that out, attracting as many as 17 million viewers per show.

What many don’t know is that studies show the very act of dancing––at any age, but particularly in seniors––brings tremendous health benefits. In other words, seniors need to get out there and dance! The advantages are actually three-fold: physical, psychological and social.

Physical Benefits

Physical exercise of any kind has been shown to intervene in the natural physical deficiencies that occur as we age. Despite the benefits of physical exercise, one study shows that the majority of seniors stop after six months. As found in a 2007 study, however, seniors are more likely to stick with it if the program is something interesting and fun, such as a variety of dance forms including ballroom, polka, salsa, or Tai Chi.

A 12-week, dance-based aerobic exercise program in 2002 resulted in improvements in balance and agility as well as a reduction of the risk of falls. In another study among a group of sedentary senior women, dancing improved their cardiorespiratory endurance, balance, lower-limb strength and endurance, body agility and flexibility, and a decrease in body fat.

In a separate study in 2010, a group of seniors with 16 years of regular dancing showed superior performance for posture, balance, and reaction time. This is significant, since these variables have been identified as reliable predictors for the risk of falls. (Research has shown that falls can potentially lead to premature mortality.)

In 2009, 111 seniors in Hong Kong participated in a study involving 23 dance sessions over 12 weeks. Improvements were found in lower limb endurance as well as general health and bodily pain.

Increased cognitive functioning can also result from dance. A group of researchers heading an eight-month study in 2010, the Dancing Heart Program (DHP), found that subjects improved in thinking, learning new things, and remembering.

Psychological Benefits

Dance therapists have known about the healing potential of dance and movement since the 1940s, when Marian Chase used dance-movement thereapy to successfully rehabilitate psychiatric patients. A study in 2005 showed that participation in creative acts such as dancing can stimulate the release of endorphins, causing a relaxation response. Dance-movement therapy has successfully been applied to mental conditions including anxiety, tension, depression, low self-esteem, and neurological disorders.

One 2012 study found that a 40-minute dance session with combination-style dancing (utilizing different styles of dance in one session) facilitates attentional control and memory processes.

Social Benefits

As we learn more about aging, socialization is being recognized as one of the most important factors leading to longevity. Regarding the Dancing Heart Program mentioned above, increased social interaction was a major resulting theme. All of the participants reported that they really enjoyed interacting with the other participants.

In another 2006 study, this one on older adults with dementia, researchers found that the participants experienced increased motivation and the ability to express emotion after only four dance sessions.

A Good Recap

Based on all of this research, what can we say about the benefits of dance? Expect marked improvements in:

  • Cardiorespiratory endurance
  • Balance
  • Lower-limb strength and endurance
  • Body agility and flexibility
  • Decreased body fat
  • Posture
  • Reaction time
  • Decreased bodily pain
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Memory
  • Socialization
  • Motivation

You won’t derive these multiple benefits by just watching others do it. And you don’t have to be Fred or Ginger. Simply keep your bodies, minds, and spirits in motion––and dance!

When looking for a senior living community, be sure that the fitness programs include regular dance classes such as Tai Chi and Zumba Gold.