Dance may be the solution to inactivity for all ages and ailments
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
It's common knowledge that most Americans don't get enough exercise. Study after study warns of the innumerable diseases we are at risk of if we continue to be sedentary. Even though we hear this, what is stopping so many people from getting up and moving?
We all make excuses to avoid exercise, but would it help if it were more fun? What if it involved a partner? Dance comes naturally to all of us, as one study suggests we are born to do it. So maybe dance is the simple, fun solution to our inactivity — and it could benefit us as a form of physical rehabilitation, too.
Dance is part of being human. As early as 9,000 years ago, cave paintings depict humans engaged in dancing in lines or circles.
In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Yosef Garfinkel explains that dance was a form of social communication. It likely helped us bond and, most importantly, survive through communication. To this day, we dance at community functions, although Garfinkel says "the dancing motif has lost its importance in society."
Even for those who think they have two left feet, the feel-good vibe after a dance session is undeniable. Minot State University found that dancing "improves mood and certain cognitive skills, such as visual recognition and decision-making." Mood and brain function are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of dancing in our lives.
A study published in the European Journal of Physical Rehabilitation Medicine illustrates the many benefits of dance as physical therapy and exercise, specifically in those with Parkinson's disease. If dance is performed with enough intensity, it can be a great source of cardio. Dance also helps develop flexibility and strength in a way that simple cardio cannot.
Dance being set to music is another benefit as a form of therapy since it provides auditory and visual cues, which help with controlled movements. It also requires multitasking as different body parts move in different patterns.
This can be a challenge, especially in physical therapy settings — but that can be improved with practice. For physical therapy patients, that is progress worth celebrating.
The study focused on the Argentine tango discipline as beneficial for those with Parkinson's disease. Since tango uses walking as the basic step, it is a good platform for repairing walking ability. Hip injury is the most common injury for those with the disease, and the tango can even help prevent falls by teaching a specific strategy for movement and balance.
However, the benefits of dance are not restricted to those with Parkinson's, as other studies have shown it benefits cancer and surgery recovery. For elderly individuals in nursing homes, dance can resolve some of the immobility issues that are often experienced, and since it is social in nature, it can help build teamwork and community while combating the loneliness that is often experienced there.
Chemotherapy is rough on the body and leave many patients frail, and some statistics show that about 70 percent of patients develop peripheral neuropathy. A recent study completed by Ohio State University found that after five weeks of Argentine tango courses, chemo patients had improved core strength and that their balance improved by about 56 percent.
Dance as part of breast cancer treatment after surgery was also the focus of a study found in the Physical Therapy Journal. While supervised by a therapist and a licensed dance teacher during both outpatient and group sessions, patients regained a sense of total body control and movement while adjusting to a new body image post-mastectomy.
People who have physical barriers to adequate exercise are not the only ones who can receive the benefits of dance. Hours of homework and video games and a general lack of interest in exercise has caused school-age children to not receive the recommended amount of exercise. One study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that obesity in female adolescents has doubled since the 1960s, although there is little evidence as to why.
Physical activity can also improve performance in school by improving the brain's function, cognition and structure says The Asian Age in a report from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The article points out that, along with physical improvements, children also experience a social benefit in exercise by learning social responsibility, respect and confidence.
Larry Nelson, associate professor of kinesiology at the University of Texas at Arlington shares how he is transforming physical education in some Dallas and Fort Worth School districts. While studying in college, Nelson realized physical education courses had a significant impact on how much daily activity children received, but that PE was not taking place most days.
Having always been intrigued by dance as a form of exercise, Nelson helped to establish the nonprofit Dancing Classrooms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2006. The purpose of this program is to build social awareness, confidence and self-esteem through social dance.
Ten years later, the program has been implemented in 275 schools in the area and continues to grow. In 2013, students were given the opportunity to showcase their new skills in the "Colors of the Rainbow" dance competition hosted at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Nelson said he enjoyed seeing the children's excitement, but also that of parents and school administrators. While performing a study during dance classes, Nelson found the heart rates of students were at 60 percent of maximum for nearly half of the class time. The study shows these dancing classrooms not only teach students how to ballroom dance, but they also gain social skills while getting some exercise that feels more like fun.
Although not a professional dancer himself, Nelson enjoys watching the respect between students grow throughout the course of the program and says, "I know a good physical activity when I see one."
Dance is often considered more of a leisure activity, but the evidence shows it can be good exercise as well. If school and hospital administrators know about the benefits — with the support of parents, therapists and school boards — dance can become a more widely used form of physical education and therapy.
Whether one is trying to reclaim flexibility and balance after surgery, learn a new skill or simply become stronger and healthier, dance is a great option.
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