Older women who dance have a decreased risk of developing disabilities that affect daily activities, a Japanese study has found.
Researchers studied the effects of dancing and 15 other activities, including calisthenics, walking, yoga, and jogging, on 1,003 women ages 70 to 84. The study sought to identify the exercises most likely to prevent disabilities that affect activities of daily living, such as walking, eating, bathing, dressing, and toileting. Researchers measured the types of daily exercise the women commonly performed over eight years.
After adjusting for other risk factors, the researchers found that dancing was associated with only a 4 percent risk of developing a disability that affected daily activities, compared to 13 percent for nondancers. None of the other exercise types was significantly associated with disability risk.
Dancing might have come out on top because of its multifaceted health benefits: It requires balance, strength, and endurance, as well as cognitive abilities like adaptability, concentration, artistry, and memory for choreography. However, the study didn’t specify the types of dancing performed or compare the intensity, duration, and frequency of dancing with the other exercises the women performed. So, concluding that dancing ranks number 1 in keeping disability at bay might be a stretch, especially since countless studies have found that physical activity of many varieties promotes positive health outcomes.
What you should do
We’re not suggesting you trade in your running shoes for dance slippers. But dance—and dance fitness classes like Zumba—can be a practical alternative or addition to your workout. Moreover, it adds a social component that can contribute to good health, too.
A version of this article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see The Many Health Benefits of Dancing.