Physical inactivity contributes to a long list of health conditions, from obesity to cancer, and coronary heart disease. In 2019, 32% of adults in the UK did less than the recommended weekly physical activity, and a further 21% were classified as inactive (<30 minutes on average per week). Becoming more active in your everyday life can have a positive impact on your overall health, by preventing, controlling, or alleviating heart failure, dementia, and other cognitive factors, depression, anxiety, and more. Physical fitness is associated with improved cognitive abilities and is a major contributory factor toward the maintenance of independent living and everyday competence. Exercise, be it resistance training or a low-impact practice such as Tai Chi, offers significant benefits for older adults. Benefits including improvements in muscle strength, aerobic power, balance, and a lower incidence of falls. However, not all adults are likely to start and continue participating in these forms of exercise.
One that they might participate in is dance. James Judge suggested in 2003 that it would be a beneficial physical activity for older adults after findings from past research suggested that older recreational gymnasts and folk dancers had greater leg strength than their inactive peers. Many forms of dance are similar to Tai Chi, where the individual is in an upright posture and has to move their line of gravity outside the base of support with joint movements, which can significantly improve lower body muscle endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. Additionally, dance can result in relatively high heart rates, levels of consumed oxygen, and self-reported exertion in young and older adults, aiding in the reduction of cardiovascular health risks.
Dance can take many forms, does not require much expense nor equipment, and can be performed in most settings. The easy access and social aspect of dance might make this physical activity more appealing to individuals of all ages, especially older adults who would have had a positive relationship with dance when they were younger.
An Australian study published in 2000 found that adults who participated in a weekly folk dance class organised by the researchers showed more independence and motivation, increased self-esteem, socialisation, and a sense of community than those who did not. After the founder of the class left, they became an autonomous group and continued providing dance lessons for years under the leadership of one of the participants. Dance allows older adults to maintain a connection to everyday life as it provides fun and enjoyment for all those involved, promoting social interaction, physical activity, and overall well-being.
The body movements associated with dance can be outlets for emotional expression, which can help with symptoms of depression. Depression, the most common mental disorder, is characterized by a loss of interest and pleasure in daily activities, lack of motivation and energy. Studies on dance and movement therapy have shown that dance has a positive effect on mild depressive and anxiety symptoms, perceived stress, and negative affect. While depression is very common amongst older adults, they are likely to be very reluctant to utilize the mental health services provided. Recreational dance, even if its intention is not therapeutic, can have a positive effect on our mood, as it involves physical activity and learning a new skill, which is a reinforcing experience as it can refute negative self-attitudes.
Additionally, listening to music is entertaining, and research is beginning to show it can help with your health. The pleasure and emotional boost we get from listening to music we enjoy are due to the brain producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in feelings of happiness and excitement. As music can produce feelings of happiness due to the release of neurotransmitters, it is considered a natural antidepressant. Music also can lower levels of cortisol, the hormone involved in stress, counteracting the effects of chronic stress- such as increased heart rates, blood pressure, and blood sugar, depression, and anxiety disorders.
Aging is accompanied by a general decline in physical fitness, perception, motor control, and cognitive functions. Fortunately, physical activity has been found to positively affect our overall health, both physical and mental. Older adults can improve their aerobic power, lower body muscle strength, flexibility, and agility with dance, reducing the risk of falls and cardiovascular diseases through dancing. Listening to music has a variety of positive effects on health, making dancing a pleasurable and accessible physical activity for all ages. Here at FitQuid, we have set the challenge to keep the UK population motivated and active, with the aim of building a healthy and engaging community. Earn rewards by tackling physical inactivity, and in turn, help keep yourself healthy and happy.