Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found dancing on a regular basis decreases one's risk of dementia by 76 percent. A 2009 report from the Changing Aging Partnership (CAP) found that dancing holds social, mental and physical health benefits that can help older adults enjoy senior living.
The study was led by Dr. Jonathan Skinner from Ireland’s Queen’s University Belfast. Skinner discovered that social dancing programs often helped older adults fight illness and could stave off other signs of aging. He suggests that senior communities may want to expand any social dance offerings so residents can reap the benefits.
“I have found that social dancing leads to a continued engagement with life — past, present, and future — and holds the promise for successful aging,” Skinner said.
April Bentley, owner of Dance Studio 125 in Cleveland, agreed, adding that dancing is a very healthy social activity.
“First of all, I think the main reason why people get involved — from my experience and hearing people talk — is that their life is changing and they’re wanting to try something new,” she said. “They get involved in ballroom dancing because it’s a social dance and they meet people. They’re getting exercise and they’re meeting people. Everyone is in a great mood because they’re there because they want to be.”
Studies have shown that strong social ties and socializing with friends contribute to high self-esteem and a positive outlook. Joining a dance class can increase self-confidence and build social skills. Because physical activity reduces stress and tension, regular dancing also gives an overall sense of well-being.
“They’re dancing, having fun and learning something new,” Bentley said. “They become a part of something and it’s so addictive. Then they end up falling in love with trying to learn how to do the Waltz, the Tango or the fox trot. Then they want to take lessons and do competitions and dance showcases. It’s a great social media. With children — it really helps those who are bashful because they get to be part of something without having to speak. Then their confidence grows. You see a difference in them within a year.”
Since dance is a form of physical exercise and exercise increases endurance, regular dancing is great for improving stamina, according to experts, especially vigorous dancing such as line and ballroom dancing.
“Ballroom dancing is the one style of dance that you can take with you no matter how old you are,” Bentley said. “We go to dance conventions and there are 80-year-old people competing. Ballroom is something you can do at your own pace because you have different speeds.”
Many styles of dance, including jazz and ballet, require jumping and leaping high into the air. Jumping and leaping require tremendous strength of the major leg muscles. Dance also requires a great amount of flexibility. Most dance classes begin with a warm-up including several stretching exercises. Dancers must achieve full range of motion to accomplish the best routines. The greater the range of motion, the more flexible dancers become simply by dancing.
Research is showing that dancing also aids in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. It keeps joints lubricated, which helps prevent arthritis. It helps burn away calories, while improving stamina. It is estimated that dance burns anywhere from 5 to 10 calories per minute depending on speed and intensity. Dancing is also great for diabetics because it aids in blood sugar control.
Dance even improves our memory by making us recall steps, routines and dance patterns, making it a great mental exercise for the brain. Experts say the benefit in this is that increasing mental exercise keeps your mind young, quick, alert and open. Dancing has even improved balance in older adults, something which is especially important given that one in three people over 65 experiences a fall every year.
Bentley said people are becoming more aware of the health and social benefits to dancing, along with it being a lot of wholesome fun. The recent surge of interest in dancing is also attributed to the immense popularity of dance shows, according to Bentley.
“What has helped are all of these dance shows on TV — Dancing with the Stars, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Best Dance Crew,” she explained. “Those shows are really opening people to dance and getting them interested in doing it themselves.”
Whether it’s at a social gathering, a dance studio or a dance competition, dancing in itself is a fun way to make new friends, bond with old ones, lose weight, stay in shape and improve one’s mental, emotional and physical health.