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  • If you, like me, came into a family who was intently involved in music and dance, you KNOW you were born with a beat, a dance beat, that is. I began dancing around the age of six, mimicking my aunts who danced around the house, even while house-cleaning Saturdays to tunes that kept your toes tapping and hips jarring. That said, sixty plus years ago there was no mention of specific health benefits of dancing and, after all, you just couldn’t sit through those tunes without moving, I couldn’t. Today we KNOW there ARE health benefits, which only add to the internal beat of someone like me who finds dancing my best de-stressor and exercise.

    New Life For A Tired Soul…
    Dancing is magical and transforming. It can breathe new life into a tired soul; make a spirit soar; unleash locked-away creativity; unite generations and cultures; bring neutrality to two opposing views; inspire new romances or rekindle old ones; trigger long-forgotten memories; and turn sadness into joy! Dancing requires you to remember dance steps and sequences—that alone is brain-power that improves memory skills. Furthermore, it’s the best stress-reducer—ever tried dancing and worrying about other extraneous concerns? You can’t.

    According to Costas Karageorghis, PhD, a music and sports researcher, we’re hardwired to sync-up our movements to music—possibly because even primitive cultures used rhythmic movements to express themselves. This instinctual response to rhythm actually begins in your brain—where musical vibrations “light-up” timing circuits intertwined with your brain’s communication and memory systems. This explains why you may find yourself singing, swaying, and choking-up to tunes that bring back memories of days gone by. Albeit you may not “feel” the beat like I do, it’s true some people’s mind-beat connection is stronger than others. The trick, it seems, is that environmental factors play an important role in the impact of the memories.

    Re-wiring Your Brain…
    According to Joe Verghese, MD, a professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “The brain rewires itself based on use—you lose what you don’t use. The more time you spend dancing, for instance, the more you train your brain to open those feel-good floodgates the more you’ll start to amp-up your overall well-being.”

    Scientifically Speaking…
    A study in overall circulation found that people with cardiac conditions who danced for just 20 minutes three times weekly saw their heart health improve significantly more than those who stuck to their traditional cardio workouts. Dancing helps make your skeleton strong, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, AND, it works wonders for overall body chemistry. Researchers confirmed overall health benefits by comparing dancers to non-dancers and found evidence that dancing may preserve and enhance both motor skills and perceptual abilities.

    Dancing releases ample flow of mood-improving chemicals that creates elevation of your overall mental state. Just one lively dance session can slay depression more than vigorous exercise or simply listening to upbeat music. According to a study in The Arts in Psychotherapy, having a dance partner leads to less stress and stronger social bonds—key factors in mental and physical health.

    Saving Your Mind, Literally…
    Dancing enhances your memory, coordination and focus by giving it an intense workout—leading to stronger synapses and beefed-up gray matter. In a New England Journal of Medicine study they reported that out of 11 physical activities, dancing was the ONLY one that actually lowered dementia risk by a whopping 76 percent. Maybe the question should now be, “May I have this dance? A better question to ask rather than what drug should I take for the beginning symptoms of dementia or any other cognitive disorder?” Just a thought…

    The study results showed that dancers are sharper in the short-term and less likely to succumb to debilitating brain diseases of all kinds in the short and long term.

    A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that ballroom dancing at least twice a week made people less likely to develop or accelerate dementia. It also showed that people with Alzheimer’s disease were able to recall forgotten memories when they dance to music they used to know. Not ambulatory? Try chair-dancing, it’s very therapeutic for those with physical limitations.

    Dancing 101…
    When non-dancers, and my clients, find out I’ve danced for…more years than I’d like to admit…they want to know what type of dancing should they begin with. That’s a hard question because it depends on individual mobility and rhythm choices—maybe the following will help you get motivated.

    Newbies: Line Dancing—The rhythm is generally easy-to-follow, movements are repetitive and easy to catch-on…life in the country lane of line dancing is fun and you don’t need a partner.

    Burning Calories: Zumba—The type of dancing you see on television simply scorches the calories but its professional moves at professional speed are NOT for those untrained and out-of-shape. For something similar and more accessible, check out Zumba—the pace is intense but fun and you burn about 250 calories in just 30 minutes…and how can you resist all those beats?

    Mood-Booster: Swing—You need a partner to dance swing and the touch factor, along with the high-energy music beat, helps trigger a mood-enhancing hormone called oxytocin—the “happy” hormone.

    Strength/Endurance: Pole Dancing—I have to admit I tried it once and almost killed myself. Yes, this is great for toning your lower body and the activity at the pole provides great upper body and arm strength but you have to be in really good shape OR?

    Stress-Relief: DANCE—any dance, just get out, find friends who will support your efforts and dance to upbeat music to not only reap the health benefits for your body but also for your mind as camaraderie helps to blow-out that excess stress.

    The Way I See It….
    If you’re not inclined to exercise or not motivated by that dusty treadmill in the corner, yet motivated to get healthier and fit, dust-off those dancing shoes and kick-up your heels…doctors’ orders!