Shall We Dance?
Imagine entering a room and seeing exuberant seniors dancing to a syncopated beat. The smiles on their faces and the sweat on their brows tell a story: There is hard work being done here — and every moment is an absolute joy.
Visitors to the Jewish Home’s Zumba and chair dancing classes often come across just this type of scene. The seniors’ enthusiasm, says Caryl Geiger, Activity Director at the Home, is contagious. “Every time I walk in there, I smile, and I’m not even taking the class! Dancing just makes you feel good.”
Researchers tell us that Caryl’s observation is actually measurable. Study after study is providing dramatic evidence that for seniors, dancing can be just what the doctor ordered.
“We can now say with confidence that dance has significant physical and psychological benefits for seniors,” says Noah S. Marco, M.D., Executive Director of the Brandman Research Institute and Chief Medical Officer of the Los Angeles Jewish Home. “Among its many plusses, dance activates muscle memories that may have been dormant for years. For seniors, dancing can be a safe, natural, and easily accessible way to reawaken both their bodies and their minds.”
The American Dance Therapy Association has published an extensive study on the effects of dance and movement on seniors. Data was collected from more than 100 movement therapy practitioners and the conclusions were remarkable: “Dance increases quality of life for seniors. It promotes resiliency and physical and psychological health, including an increased ability to cope with anxiety, depression issues, and the behavioral changes associated with dementia and cognitive impairment.”*
The results from a 21-year study of senior citizens by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York were even more striking. Scientists studied physical activities like swimming, walking, and bicycling. One of the studies biggest surprises was that the only physical activity to offer meaningful protection against dementia was frequent dancing.**
The benefits, notes Caryl, extend beyond memory retention. “Dancing improves flexibility, social skills, and motor skills,” she says.
Of course, movement comes naturally to children. They live through their bodies — running, playing, falling, and getting up. As we age, however, many of us tend to become less physically active. But by the time we enter our senior years, we may be sedentary or at least heading in that direction. The good news is that one of the best remedies is also the simplest and most enjoyable.
After all, there is a dancer in all of us.