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Last updated October 23, 2016 (originally published August 28, 2015)

By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Registered Nurses,
Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial Board.]

Haven't put on your dancing shoes in a while? Join the club.  

Dancing is one of the most pleasurable activities in life. Yet, for
most of us, it an a lost pleasure. Most of us give up dancing once
we enter our twenties and start working full-time. And, except
for teh occasional wedding we attend, almost all of us have
stopped dancing by the time we enter our thirties and start
raising children.  

But, have we missed the boat? Did we make a critical mistake by
hanging up our dancing shoes?

It appears so. New evidence from scientists has found that
dancing regularly may be about the best thing you can do to stay
healthy an vigorous as you age. What are the health benefits of
dancing? Which diseases does dancing help to ward off?

Dancing Wards off Frailty

Let’s start with a picture of where we don’t want to end up. You
know this man or woman. Even if you don’t know their name,
you have seen them, walking, slowly, perhaps in a park or street
near your home. They move carefully, and oh so slowly. They are
thin but not because they have been following a diet. They have
“thinned out” with age.  Their skin is loose on their limbs and
their eyes seem glazed. If you had to guess their age, you can
say for certain that they are not 50, not 60, not even 70, but
older. They look weak and fragile. Scientists call this condition

Frailty has a technical definition:

“Frailty is an age-associated biological syndrome characterized by
decreases in the biological functional reserve and resistance to
stressors due to changes in several physiological systems, which
puts individuals at special risk for poor outcomes (disability, fall
death, and hospitalization) from minor stressors”.

This definition comes  a 2013 study conducted by an
international team of scientists including Dr. Alan Sinclair of the
Institute of Diabetes for Older People (IDOP), University of
Bedfordshire, United Kingdom and Dr. Eduardo Cadore of the
University of Navarre, Spain.

This technical definition of frailty points out the catch -22 of this
dangerous condition --- it is a status of biological decline which
makes you more vulnerable to bad health outcomes, even from
minor setbacks. The declines are in physical reserves and in
resistance to stressors.

Frailty is the reason that an older person can die from something
that younger people, in the words of singer Taylor Swift, just
“shake off”. Younger people get colds. Older people get colds
and then get flu. Younger people get flu. Older people get flu, get
pneumonia and die. Younger people stumble, catch themselves
before they fall or fall and get right back up. Older people fall,
break a hip and never get back up again.

A strong wind blows and a younger person enjoys the breeze.
That same strong wind blows an older person off their feet.

How do we get this way? What are the subtle declines which
over time lead to frailty?And how can dancing help?

To Become Frail, First You Lose Your Muscle Mass

The first step of frailty is loss of muscle mass. Over time, if we do
nothing, we lose about 1% of our muscle mass for each decade
after 30. By age, 65, we begin to enter a condition known as
“sarcopenia”. Sarcopenia is a dangerously low total muscle mass,
a state where you start to accumulate more fat than muscle, and
you become weaker and weaker. By the time we are 65, 7% to
16% of women are technical frail.

In fact, new reports say that we actually lose between 3% and
5% of our muscle mass each decade after age 30.
Read more.]

Sarcopenia puts you at greater risk for almost all chronic diseases
and greater risk of death from all causes,
reports have found..

Dancing Builds Up Your Critical Physical Reserves

Scientists have found that so-called multi-component exercises
are one of the best ways to combat frailty. These exercises or
activities combine strength training, balance and aerobic
exercise.  Tai Chi, for example, has been found effective in
several studies in improving your balance. Stair climbing
improves your lower leg strength. And of course walking and
jogging improve your cardiovascular health.

But guess what improves all 3? Dancing.

When you dance, you challenge your balance systems. Dancing
involves shifting from one leg to the other while moving your
arms, and yet not falling down. You have to have great balance
to dance.

When you dance, you challenge your muscle strength. To move
your body up and down, you need leg strength. Some dances,
such as salsa and other ballroom dances, work your legs out as
much as stair climbing, leg  presses or squats.

When you dance, you challenge your cardiovascular system.
Dancing for as little as 3 minutes --the length of a song ---can
leave you panting for breath. METS (metabolic equivalents)  are
the way that scientists measure how much energy a given
exercise requires. Salsa dancing  --as a lesson, at your home or in
a club -- requires between 3.9 and 5.5 METs, according to a 2012
study led by Dr. Laura Guidetti of the University of Rome “Foro
Italico”, Rome, Italy .

Salsa’s energy requirements are equivalent to an exercise of
“moderate intensity”.

By comparison, sedentary behaviour only requires  1.0 to 1.5
METs,  light-intensity activities require 1.6 to 2.9 METs, moderate-
intensity  such as salsa require 3 to 5.9 METs, and vigorous-
intensity activities such as running or bicycling require over 6
METS of energy.

Dancing Helps to Prevent Falls

Exercise in general decreases your risk of falling by up to  58%,
even in those over 90 years old, according to several studies,
including a 2012 study from the Hospital General Universitario
Gregorio Marañón, Madrid, Spain.  

Dancing salsa for just 8 weeks significantly improves the balance  
of older adults, according to a 2012 study from Friedrich Schiller
University Jena, Germany.

Salsa improved both postural balance and dynamic balance.
Postural balance is the type of balance that helps you to hold
yourself upright. Dynamic balance is what it sounds like: your
ability to keep your balance while moving. Though this study was
small --involving 28 adults of average age of about 70 -- the
results are encouraging.

Dancing Wards Off Dementia

Dancing is the only form of physical exercise which has been
proven to prevent dementia.

In 2003, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine concluded a 21-
year study on people 75 years and older to find out  how various
kinds of mental and physical activities affected mental sharpness
of the elderly.

For mental activities, they examined writing, reading books,
doing crossword puzzles, playing musical instruments and
playing cards.  

For physical activities, they examined laying golf, tennis,
swimming, walking, doing housework and dancing.

Several of the mental activities reduced the risk of dementia:
reading (35% reduced risk), (crossword puzzles 4 times a week
(47% reduced risk).  

But, of all of the physical activities, only dancing had any effect
whatsoever on mental sharpness.  The study found that dancing
frequently reduced your risk of dementia by an astounding 76%.

What are you waiting for? Turn that music on and get moving!  

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