As people age, being physically active becomes increasingly essential. With advancing age, the rate of muscle and bone loss is faster, and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to conditions like osteoporosis, muscular atrophy, and joint degeneration. As older people retain an active lifestyle, some popular forms of exercise include Tai Chi, yoga, and walking. However, some people may find these monotonous. They might seek a fun way out, which is not just a means of staying active but an exciting, social, and incredibly enjoyable means to a healthy life. If you’re looking for an activity that engages and entertains you, opt for dance fitness for older adults. This focuses not just on building their physical health but nurturing happy souls, too.
Dance as a fitness activity for older adults
According to a review published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, dancing can help older adults increase their aerobic capacity and improve lower-body muscle endurance, strength, and flexibility, as well as their balance, agility, and gait. Additionally, it can increase bone and muscle mass, lessen their risk of falls, and safeguard their cardiovascular health.
Unlike other therapies offered in old age, which focus on specific body parts or symptoms, dancing aims at the integration of full-body movements.
“The idea is to facilitate whole-body movement instead of targeting specific body parts,” informs Devika Mehta Kadam, a dance movement psychotherapist and clinical psychologist from Mumbai. “Such integrated movement makes you feel like you are in control while dancing to a specific rhythm, which rarely occurs otherwise as people age. A form of dependency can develop over the years, which dancing counteracts. When you are dancing, you have control over what you engage with. It positively affects people mentally and physically.”
The link between dance and mental health in older people
The older generation tends to spend time isolated indoors. Dance sessions bring joy and camaraderie by allowing them to bond with people, learn, and practice dance together. It also allows everyone to express their creativity and joy through the beauty and charm of movement.
Further, it does not matter whether they are slow dancing, dancing with a partner, or trying to imitate movements from a video. Dancing in general releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and serotonin, which can positively affect your motivation, pleasure, stress response, social bonding, mood, and emotional regulation in the brain.
Which dance style is ideal for seniors?
Older adults can choose any form of dance style. However, their physical state of being and medical conditions need to be taken into consideration. In addition, the purpose matters too.
“Some people want to enhance their fitness levels through dance,” says Mehta. “Their doctor might have advised them to lose weight. This crowd might go for Zumba for older adults, which is a little faster and involves a little bit of cardio and stretching. While, for someone like my mother, there is no medical condition preventing her from engaging in any kind of physical activity. She prefers Bollywood or folk styles of dancing so that she can connect and meet more women.”
Kochi-based contemporary dance choreographer and trainer, Manu Emmanuel George, suggests mixing distinctive styles in each session if the focus is not to learn a specific style. “Combining different styles can allow people to perform the basics of different techniques while incorporating more cardio,” says George, co-founder of Electro Battles Dance and Fitness Studio, Kochi. “Sometimes, older clients find it difficult to perform certain movements. In such situations, we give them alternative movements that are comfortable for them. We can also consider songs they like while combining multiple dance styles into a single session, which encourages them to be more active dancing in a group.”
Challenges for elderly people doing dance fitness
People often find dancing difficult at the start, whether they are dancing for the first time or picking it up after a break. The roadblocks are mostly due to health conditions, while even societal norms can be a hindrance.
“We encourage older people to focus more on what they are doing rather than what others think. The goal is to do what makes you feel great, and there is no point in putting pressure on the performing part,” explains Mehta.
Moreover, the dance instructor plays a crucial role in the experience. Hence, Mehta suggests choosing the right dance instructor who makes you comfortable and can encourage you to pick up the moves effortlessly. “Working under someone authoritative can be very challenging, especially for those stepping into dance for the first time,” she adds.
Precautions for dance fitness
- Existing medical conditions: It is essential to let the instructor know about your health and medical history so that they understand your physical state and help you to dance in a way that is both safe and healthy for you. “Understanding one’s health enables us to work accordingly. For instance, it will be challenging for someone to make turns if they have ear balance issues. Here, we can substitute a different movement,” shares George.
- Proper warm-up and cool-down: Older people require more warm-up than youngsters. “In an hour-long session with older people, we spend the first 20 minutes warming up. This includes stretches to release the joints and exercises for various body parts, from the head to the toes,” says George. Similarly, a 20-minute cool down with breathing and floor exercises should be done after the dance session.
- Incorporating sitting and standing movements: Sometimes it can be challenging for older people to dance for 45-60 minutes in a single stretch. Mehta suggests incorporating a mix of sitting and standing movements to avoid this. “Having a flexible routine that can be adapted to different sitting and standing positions is ideal for older people who are unable to stand and dance continuously for a prolonged period,” she elaborates.
- Take breaks: Breaks are crucial for seniors in their dance routine to avoid overexertion and injuries. Experts also suggest sipping water during these breaks to stay hydrated.
- Dancing can improve older people’s balance, agility, and gait, as well as their lower-body muscular endurance, strength, and flexibility.
- Dance fitness brings joy and camaraderie to elderly people, who get a chance to engage with others.
- Older adults can perform any form of dance, as long as their health and medical conditions are accounted for.
- Various precautions should be taken in dance fitness sessions for older adults. These include informing the instructor about the health and medical status, proper warm-up and cool-down routines, incorporating sitting and standing movements and taking breaks.