Exercise, Hip Hop-eration and the Impact of Dance on New Zealand’s Elderly

As people age, body systems and cognitive functional abilities decline at various levels. A person’s mobility is also compromised, making it hard to maintain balance, strength and stability. It is widely known that exercise contributes to increased longevity as well as a diverse range of benefits that promote optimal and holistic health for all.

The effectiveness of frequent physical activity and exercise can reduce the risk of falls, strengthen muscles and promote regeneration within the body. Universal exercise guidelines suggest that multi-modal or varied forms of physical activity are the most appropriate for older people. Multi-modal programs for this population generally include cardiovascular training, strengthening exercises, and flexibility and balance workouts.

Photo Credit: Justin C.
Photo Credit: Justin C.

In New Zealand, there is a hip hop street-dance group comprising seven older adults ranging from age 71 to 96. Called the world’s oldest dance group by Guinness World Records, Hip Op-eration Crew are the current world title holders, performing hip hop dance to promote positive attitudes to ageing. The group has various disabilities including blindness, deafness, arthritis and heart disease but dancing helps to manage these conditions as any kind of physical activity benefits overall health.

When a person exercises, the brain releases chemicals called endorphins to fight stress. “These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria”, according to Fast Company. So exercise produces endorphins that make people feel good. This is important because older people who are struggling with confidence or low spirits can implement an exercise routine as recommended by their doctor.

To date, Hip Op-eration has garnered positive responses worldwide including features in news media. The group was founded in 2012 by Billie Jordan who also manages the crew. In fact, the group are neighbours from Waiheke Island of New Zealand who use hip hop dance to form stronger connections with young people. Jordan recently gave an inspirational Ted Talk that was followed by a performance from Hip Op-eration. The crew has also performed and/ or competed at other events including:

  • New Zealand National Hip Hop Championships in 2013 and 2014
  • World Hip-Hop Dance Championship in 2013
  • Taipei Arena, Taiwan to an audience of 15,000 in 2014

These achievements have resulted in a documentary called “Hip Hop-eration” which chronicles the group’s memorable adventures including their performance at the World Hip Hop Dance Championship in Las Vegas.

Hip Hop-eration won two Moa awards for Best Documentary and Best Director as well as glowing reviews from newspapers in New Zealand. The crew shows that a person is never too old to have fun and exercise is important for older people with or without disabilities. As the founders of Hip Hop believed, it is not about limitations but about possibilities – regardless of age or physical ability. Check out the trailer for Hip Hop-eration!

Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Health Aging.

Hazel Dompreh is currently a Diversional/ Recreational Therapist at a nursing home in New South Wales, Australia.

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