Dancing, whether it be ballet, tango, ballroom, line, waltz, salsa or disco, can be a great way to stay fit for people of all ages, shapes and sizes and it has a wide range of physical and mental benefits including:
- Boosting memory
- Improving flexibility
- Reducing stress
- Diminishing depression
- Helping your heart
- Losing weight
- Improving your balance
- Increasing your energy
- Making friends
In a study published last year by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute & Hospital, McGill University & The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, it was found that dancing the Argentine tango could have benefits for people at certain stages in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Tango requires specific steps that involve rhythmically walking backwards & forwards. This may be particularly helpful for those with walking difficulties. In addition, the tango requires combining memory, attention & multitasking to incorporate different elements and to stay in rhythm with the music.
Ballet is another form of dance which is gaining in popularity for older people. You may have danced when you were younger, always dreamed of slipping into a pair of ballet shoes, or perhaps you’re just looking for a fun way to get exercise and socialise; either way it seems ballet is becoming an increasingly viable and attractive option for older people. Far from being too old to take up a new and challenging activity, many are finding great joy, and a host of other benefits, in ballet.
The ‘Silver-Swan Effect’
Ballet classes specifically aimed at older people are now popping up, and being attended in startling numbers all over the country.
When the Royal Academy of Dance launched their Dance For Lifelong Wellbeing project four years ago, their classes for older people who wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to dance received such an enthusiastic response that they have since extended the project nationwide. Similarly, Scottish Ballet have had to close the waiting list for their Regenerate classes for over-50s, due to high demand.
The English National Ballet have also started dance sessions more specifically aimed at those who are suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
The Health Benefits of Ballet Dancing
As well as being a challenging, enjoyable and expressive hobby, ballet is of course also great for your body. It might even be a form of exercise which is particularly well suited to older people.
Dr Anne Hogan, director of education for the Royal Academy of Dance, explains: “People aged 50 upwards are looking for a type of exercise that suits their body. High-impact exercises such as running are not going to be beneficial to most in that age group. Ballet helps refine balance, flexibility and core strength.
“These are key to maintaining anyone’s health, but are especially important at that age. Ballet is also sociable, provides the opportunity to do something to music and is technically challenging.”
Daphne Cushnie, a neurological physiotherapist for the NHS, also believes the ballet has great benefits for mental health: “Music and dance acts as an organiser for the brain, and ballet is incredibly effective in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.”
This is backed up by research from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, which found dancing to be the most effective activity for warding off brain deterioration.
Dancing also calms and slows the immune system, slowing deterioration and ageing, provides great muscular exercise, reduces the risk of falling, and can be effective in alleviating the symptoms of arthritis.
However, Daphne also warns people to be careful not to overdo things: “Anyone with pre-existing heart conditions, asthma or arthritis should let their teacher know. As long as skills are built up slowly, things shouldn’t go wrong.”
With that advice in mind, if the idea appeals to you it might well be worth looking for your local ballet, tango or ballroom dance classes, as a way to keep your body and mind youthful for years to come, and have a great time in the process.
Royal Academy of Dance’s Silver Swans Classes
If you would like to try the Silver Swans ballet classes, you can attend a free class on October 1st 2017 being run by the Royal Academy of Dance. You can find out more details by clicking on the link at the end of this article. The former newsreader, Angela Rippon CBE is an ambassador for the Silver Swans and says:
“On my BBC programme How to Stay Young, we proved scientifically that dance is the exercise which ticks all the boxes, to give you the full mind and body workout. That really convinced me that dance is a way to ensure a long and healthy life.
“It keeps you supple, it’s an aerobic exercise, it gives you spatial awareness, it makes you use your brain, and it gives you some kind of social contact as well.
She finishes by saying: “I hope that men and women across the country will take up the Royal Academy of Dance’s invitation to become a Silver Swan.”
If this sounds of interest, you can find out more by clicking on this link to the RAD website.
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