National Dance Day: What are we dancing for?

As we age, we are always looking for activities to keep our health in optimal condition. Dance is a great activity to support your health. All around the world we see dance as an expression of culture and form of exercise.  This aerobic exercise is practiced by people of all ages that burns calories and works your heart muscles. 

China has understood the benefits of dance for centuries! In the People's Republic of China, square dancing or plaza dancing, is an exercise routine performed to music in squares, plazas or parks of the nation's cities. It is popular with middle-aged and retired women who have been referred to as "dancing grannies" in the English-language media. Due to its low cost and ease of participation, it has been estimated to have over 100 million practitioners, according to CCTV, the country's official television network. 

But, it’s not just for women, men often participate as well. Any given evening you can see people gathering on the street corners with a speaker playing music, engaging in group square dancing for free.  Typically there are one or two leaders and everyone else follows. So what do they know that we don’t - Why is this exercise so great for type 2’s? Where can we find this type of activity? Find out more below...

Why is dance great for middle aged and elderly type 2’s? 

In a literature review of 18 articles which reported on studies conducted in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, dance was found effective in improving the health of older adults: 

“The average age of participants ranged from 52–87 y. Researchers used a variety of measures to assess effectiveness:

(1) 3 of 5 (60%) that used measures to assess flexibility showed significant positive results; 

(2) 23 of 28 (82%) that used measures of muscular strength and endurance showed significant positive changes; 

(3) 8 of 9 (89%) that used measures of balance showed significant positive changes; 

(4) 8 of 10 (80%) that used measures of cognitive ability showed significant positive changes; 

(5) the one that measured cardiovascular endurance showed significant positive changes.” 

Dance for strength and strong bones

Despite high bone mineral density, studies have shown that men and women with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) are at increased risk for fracture. Dr Kate Ward, a Senior Research Scientist at MRC Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge states, “We do know that certain types of dance are weight-bearing and that weight-bearing exercise helps to build and maintain bones and muscles. As well as this, dancing may help the maintenance of a healthy weight and balance, which are also important as we get older to prevent falls and fractures.” 

Dance to improve posture and muscle strength

Type 2 diabetic patients may have muscle weakness at the ankle and knee related to presence and severity of peripheral neuropathy. Additionally, being inactive makes your muscles and bones lose strength. This increases your risk of osteoporosis, falls and fractures. When you dance you are engaging your muscles and using them in new and active ways. 

Dance to Increase balance and coordination

Analysis of the results of one study suggest that functional limitations may occur more in the patients with diabetes and with peripheral neuropathy, and dynamic balance stability may decrease more with the patients with diabetes than with the subjects without diabetes.  It's a good idea to do activities to improve balance and flexibility twice a week as this can reduce your risk of falling. Dance activity can also ease stiffness and unsteadiness associated with painful joints.

Dance to lose weight

Dance is a physical activity! Sedentary lifestyle is one of the factors that increase obesity and contributes negatively to type 2 diabetes. Dance activities, such as Zumba exercise, has a positive effect on body composition and rate of calorie burn and also improve people's cardiovascular endurance. With type 2 diabetes we should aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week to help lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. In one study done about Zumba class, “The results showed that the 8-week Zumba fitness training had a significant effect on decreasing women’s body fat percentage (p=0.001); body mass index (p=0.001); fat mass (p=0.001); and waistto-hip ratio (p=0.004).” 

Dance with who, and where?

While you can dance anywhere at any time with or without music, there are a number of considerations to make when planning your dance time. Depending on your age and ability level, look for mature/senior dance groups which can offer many styles of dance to choose from, each with its own attractions from square dancing to ballroom.  The findings suggest that dance, regardless of its style, can significantly improve muscular strength and endurance, balance, and other aspects of functional fitness in older adults.  Start small and safe by deciding to choose a private lesson, group class or dancing solo. 

General tips for dancing

Remember to be safe by following these guidelines:

  • See your doctor for a check-up if you have a medical condition, are overweight, are over 40 years of age or are unfit.
  • Wear layers of clothing that you can take off as your body warms up.
  • Do warm-up stretches or activities before you begin a dance session.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after dancing.
  • Make sure you rest between dance sessions.
  • Don’t push yourself too far or too fast, especially if you are a beginner.
  • Check with your dance instructor that you are holding the correct form.
  • Sit and watch new dance moves first. Learning new moves increases your risk of injury, especially if you are already tired.
  • Perform regular leg-strengthening exercises.
  • Cool down after a dance session, including stretching.

For more ideas about how to live a healthy lifestyle with type 2, join our Facebook community - Winning Type 2 Diabetes Together.