… I Hope You Dance: The Benefits of Social Dance for Successful Seniors

May 5, 2009 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

“I hope you still feel small when you stand behind the ocean.
I hope whenever one door closes, another opens.
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance…
I Hope You Dance.

Those lyrics from country music superstar Lee Ann Womack’s signature song might have been sung with her young daughters in mind, but in light of brain fitness theory, her advice might be just as appropriate for the girls’ grandparents and great grandparents!

Dancing stimulates diverse areas of the brain, and works with many of the 7 keys this blog focuses on.  It’s physically active, often requires learning new steps, and it’s  a social activity, keeping us connected to others.   It involves listening, rhythm, motion, balance, coordination, emotions, and physical touch… and as anyone who has spent much time dancing knows, it can bring memories to the surface, keep us grounded in the present, and even help with envisioning the future.

A recent report from the Changing Age Partnership confirms that dancing may be a key to successful aging.  Dr. Jonathan Skinner of Queens University Belfast recently presented research findings that strongly suggest regular dance sessions offer mental, physical and social benefits to seniors.   These benefits seem to hold back the overall declines normally associated with aging:  The seniors who dance seem to stay more engaged and motivated, have reduced aches and pains, combat the common sense of social isolation, even stimulate their immune systems in multiple ways.

Another benefit found in the research?  By improving the social interactivity of seniors, it increases social harmony, understanding and tolerance in the community; something especially important since aging requires people of sometimes diverse backgrounds to live closer together in retirement homes and communities.

Music and rhythm have measurable effects on the brain, and are the subject of multiple studies of brain-fitness benefits in both the young and old.  You may have heard of the controversial “Mozart Effect” –  a popular idea that listening to classical music may make people and even babies smarter.   That theory is questionable, but listening to music itself can have clear effects on the brain, stimulating different areas, changing brainwave patterns, and relieving stress.

And though not studied specifically in terms of seniors, other information suggests that just watching dance stimulates our brain  – mental stimulation that may be almost as powerful as performing the activity first hand.    That means that even those who are too physically restricted to move  freely can still participate and gain brain fitness benefits from social dance groups.

If you think back to the Nun Study video, you may remember a scene where the nuns are exercising in ways that look remarkably like dance movements – flowing, rhythmic motions. And  YouTube is full of amazing senior dance videos, but this one really intrigued me:

Seeing the women in motion is beautiful, and I’d love to see the full performance.  As someone who longed for dance lessons as a child (but never got them!) I find all of this very inspiring.  It truly is never too late to start dancing with inspiration, joy, pride and grace….   the brain fitness benefits are just icing on the cake.

So like Lee Ann Womack, I hope you dance.

I hope we all do!

Entry filed under: Be Physically Active!, Be Socially Active!, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , .

A Graceful Gift of Brains: The Nun Study Staying Engaged and Alive: Another Key to Cognitive Fitness

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About This Blog


A healthy mind and brain is key to a healthy, active life. Come along for the ride as we explore the basics of brain health, with topics including:
  • Physical Exercise
  • Cognitive Training
  • Stress Management
  • Social Interaction
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • A Sense of Purpose & Connection
Authored by Tori Deaux
Sponsored by Dakim Brain Fitness

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