As the Bee Gees once sang, “you should be dancin’, yeah”.
They were urging dance for sheer enjoyment, but it’s also very good for the brain and heart.
Greek researchers just published two studies showing that traditional folk dancing produced significant physical and mental fitness benefits among older people (Douka S et al. 2019).
Their findings fit with the conclusions of most such studies — including the outcomes of three recent reviews of the evidence concerning the health effects of dancing.
Evidence review from Hawaii found dancing beneficial
Four years ago, researchers from the University of Hawaii reviewed the evidence from 20 studies conducted in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia:
Of the total, 10 were randomized controlled trials in which the participants — aged 52 to 87 years — were assigned to a dancing or no-dancing group.
Overall, dancing was found to produce significant positive changes.
As the authors wrote, “The findings suggest that dance, regardless of its style, can significantly improve muscular strength and endurance, balance, and other aspects of functional fitness in older adults.”
Australian evidence-review linked dancing to lower risk for heart-related death
Three years ago, Australian researchers reviewed the evidence from 11 separate surveys among 48,390 residents of Great Britain aged 40 years or older.
The Aussie team found that — compared with non-dancers — the study participants who reported dancing regularly were 46% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease over a 10-year period.
Critically, that reduction in the risk for heart-related deaths only applied to people who danced vigorously enough to get sweaty or at least slightly out of breath (Merom D et al. 2016).
As the authors wrote in their conclusion, “Moderate-intensity dancing was associated with a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease mortality to a greater extent than walking.”
Specifically, the authors found that dancing reduced the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease 21% more than the reduction achieved by walking quickly.
Study co-author Dafna Merom, PhD, made an important point: “Some styles of ballroom or folk dancing almost mimic the short bouts of vigorous intensity we see in interval training, and that we know has proven heart health benefits, so it is like exercise in disguise.”
And, as she said, “Furthermore, dancers are often dancers for life, so we don’t see the drop in and out as much as we do in regular exercise classes.”
Canadian study confirms cognitive benefits from dancing
Earlier this year, scientists from five universities in Montréal published their review of the best available evidence regarding the effects of dancing on cognition (thinking and memory).
Seven studies involving 429 older adults — 70% women; average age 73 years — met the researchers’ quality criteria for inclusion (Predovan D et al. 2019).
And the Canadian researchers came to a positive conclusion: “Dance interventions, lasting between 10 weeks and 18 months, were related to either the maintenance or improvement of cognitive performance.”
To stay sharp and fit, shuffle your feet
Of course, you can simply dance around the house, but it’s hard to keep that up.
Instead, take classes to find the style(s) you — and your partner — most enjoy that also make you breathe harder and even break a sweat!
You’ll find some useful tips in You Should be Dancin’, from the American Council on Exercise, a leading training organization for fitness instructors.
As with all preventive-health measures, it makes sense to start as soon as you can and to keep up a proven-healthful activity — in this case, one that’s also fun and highly social.