January 2015

Dance For Your Health

Author: Marie McAden

The Bee Gees had it right. You should be dancing, doctors say. Polyester pants aside, it turns out all that hip shaking, finger pointing and hand spinning everyone was doing on the dance floor in the 1970s was actually good for your health. Dancing strengthens the heart and lungs and improves the body’s ability to use oxygen. Over time, it can help lower your blood pressure and improve your breathing.

“Anytime you move, you’re engaging your cardiovascular system and putting into motion a process that is both physically and mentally beneficial,” said Beaufort Memorial cardiologist Dr. David Harshman. “Dancing is the perfect cardiovascular exercise, because it doesn’t feel like exercise, so people are more likely to stick with it over time.”

Research suggests that 50 percent of those who begin an exercise program will drop out within six months. Dancing fares better since it’s as much a social activity as physical training.

“You don’t realize you’re exercising because you’re having so much fun,” said Armando Aseneta, co-owner of Hilton Head Island Fred Astaire Dance Studio. “But you sweat and burn calories just like you do at the gym.”

Not ready to dance like John Travolta? Try the foxtrot, cha-cha, swing, salsa or shag. Even slow dances like the waltz offer cardiac benefits.

In one study, people with mild to moderate heart failure who took up waltzing improved their heart health, breathing and quality of life significantly compared to those who biked or walked on a treadmill for exercise. Specifically, dancers showed an 18 percent improvement in oxygen use compared to 16 percent for the traditional exercise group.

“The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week,” said Beaufort Memorial cardiologist Dr. Stuart Smalheiser, a regular at the Dance for Your Health events. “Dancing can certainly fit into that. It improves your cardiovascular fitness and helps reduce stress.”

Dancing also burns body fat, improves coordination and helps keep muscles toned. Because dance movements are multidirectional, they enhance joint mobility and build bone density, too.

“To maintain healthy bones and joints, I encourage people to participate in activities where you have a fluid range of motion with low impact,” said Dr. Edward Blocker, an orthopedic surgeon at Beaufort Memorial.

Dancing offers that kind of fluid motion. Add to that the aerobic exercise you get moving your body around to fast-paced music, and you have one all-around fitness phenomenon.

To persuade Lowcountry residents to give dancing a try, five years ago, Beaufort Memorial Hospital launched “Dance for Your Health,” a free community wellness event focusing on the health benefits of shaking your bootie. This year’s program, titled “Follow the Disco Ball to Good Health,” will be presented Saturday, February 21, from 8-11 a.m. at Sun City’s Pinckney Hall. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required by visiting beaufortmemorial.com or calling (843) 522-5585.

Several experts in cardiovascular, orthopedics, women’s health and primary care will be on hand to answer questions, and instructors from the Fred Astaire Dance Studio will be offering mini-dance lessons every half hour, covering a variety of styles including salsa and shag.

“Anyone can dance,” Aseneta said. “We make it easy by breaking down the steps. You just need to get rid of your inhibitions and get up and do it.”

When Phyllis Doyle took up dancing 12 years ago, she did it for the entertainment factor as much as the exercise. “For me, if it’s not fun, I don’t want to do it,” she said. “Dancing is a great way to get your heart rate up while having fun.”

The Sun City resident and Mary Kay sales director is one of a growing number of men and women forsaking the gym for the dance studio. Rather than walk on a treadmill or peddle a stationary bicycle, they are shaking and shimmying their way to good health. And their doctors couldn’t be happier.

“The more active you stay, the better,” said Beaufort Memorial vascular surgeon Dr. Chad Tober. “Stronger muscles mean fewer problems with your veins and less circulatory issues.”
Dancing also may boost your brain. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, aerobic exercise can reverse volume loss in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory.

Feeling blue? Grab a friend and go dancing. Research shows that dancing really does lift your spirits.

“Dancing has so much to offer,” Aseneta said. “Just listening to the music makes you feel happy.” 

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