With the weather getting warmer in Sao Paulo, Brazil, many Brazilians are getting ready to get out and dance in celebration! One dance group in particular, Arte Par Dancar, has been garnering a lot of media attention for their dance moves… and for their age.
Apart from being fun, dance and movement is a form of exercise that has proven health benefits for older adults. Movement can not only improve quality of life, but certain exercises like Tai Chi, can reduce the risk of falls.
A team of scientists in Brazil set out to understand how specifically dance can benefit older adults. They found that eight weeks of ballroom dancing significantly strengthened the leg muscles of the women who participated in their study. Weak leg muscles are correlated with falls; therefore, strengthening leg muscles is a positive impact of dance. Older women seem more likely to take up dance as an activity, although it is unclear why this trend exists.
Another research study compared the health benefits of Tai chi to those of ballroom dancing. It found that senior ballroom dancers had better balance with their eyes closed, and seniors practicing Tai Chi had better dynamic balance including exponentially improved speed.
While different forms of dance and movement have varied benefits, studies show that dancers of all types have lower BMI’s, longer stride lengths, and higher bone mineral density. In addition to the physical benefits of dancing, there are clear psychological benefits, such as greater connectedness, improved mood, and higher levels of energy.
Recreational older dancers have also noted feeling more engaged in their community, and feeling a greater sense of purpose. An Arte Par Dancar member stated, “Now I am happy here, I dance. I have fun with everyone.” Another 86-year-old member of the dance troop said, “We move a lot doing lots of things. We already passed through our old person stage, now we are young.”
Dance and movement-based exercise is a fun way for older adults to become healthier and widen their social networks. This trend has proven so beneficial that Brazil is not the only country where older adults are learning to Samba!
Grace Mandel is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Health Systems and Policy at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.