Creative dance for older people

...an interesting way to improve fitness, functional balance and mobility control?

Physical activity is known to be, among others, an effective tool for older people to ensure  successful aging and prevent further diseases or disabilities, either in connection with physical of cognitive functioning. It also brings additional benefits in terms of psychological effects and social involvement.

Earlier studies found out that dancing (jazz, salsa, tango, cultural dances, etc.) is a type of physical exercise improving various aspects of health, such as balance, strength, flexibility, gait, fitness or motor ability, social relationships and even positive emotions. It can therefore facilitate successful aging.

Most studies investigating the effects of dance based on structured dance types, with a typical movement sequence, while only a few studies analysed unstructured dances (i.e. based on creative input and improvisation). The latter may however be of particular interest for older people and successful aging, as beyond the positive effects of dancing already proved in the literature, creative dance could also develop coping with physical and psychosocial changes while being easy to perform (no technical barrier) and developing further imagination, creation of own ways of expression, openness, wider thoughts, social interaction and positive feelings (joy, pleasure, action…). 

Therefore, the authors of the present study aimed to assess the effects of a creative dance (CD) programme on elderly adults’ fitness, functional balance, and mobility compared to standard stretching exercises. While both activities improve fitness and balance, CD shows more effects on dynamic balance and mobility.

The authors found out that CD and stretching programmes both improved fitness and balance in older adults. Improvements in lower and upper-limb strength and flexibility were specifically highlighted in the CD group. Moreover, enhanced dynamic and functional balance as well as enhanced mobility (more than in the stretching group) were found. Therefore, CD may be considered as an effective physical activity allowing a better and successful aging by improving strength, flexibility, functional balance and mobility while being a pleasant intervention for older adults.

> From: Joung & Lee, Gerontology 65 (2019) 537-546 . All rights reserved to S. Karger AG. Click here for the online summary.

Expert opinion

The effects of CD found in the present study appear in line with earlier findings highlighting the benefits of such approach on physical performance and fitness with better strength, flexibility and balance as compared to control groups with no activity. Moreover, such intervention reminds us of the effects highlighted in the past by Jacques-Dalcroze (eurhythmics) on music and rhythm as basis of multitask movements and improvisations.

Features which are enhanced by CD can be explained as follows: while stimulating and training the various aspects of movement (i.e., body movement, time, space, speed and force), participants experienced many combining movements, shapes, positions which were expected or unexpected, leading to global physical (strength, flexibility, balance, dynamic postural adaptations etc.) as well as cognitive trainings (proprioception, somatosensory external stimuli, emotional stimuli, spatial cognition, rhythm, attention, neuroplasticity, etc.). Taken as a whole, these elements show that CD is a kind of combined intervention, wherein physical and cognitive training is performed in a single activity. This conclusion is in line with earlier studies in this field.

Another interesting point in the study is high attendance rate for the CD group, which can be associated with the pleasure of being together in a community mood and/ or a positive feeling of self-development (while the stretching programme appears more individual, although provided in group session). As CD is a way to express oneself and share positive thoughts and 

The authors specified however that additional research to investigate the long-term physical improvements should be carried out as the effects highlighted by the present study are limited to the intervention time. Moreover, the present study does not explore all aspects of older people issues and could therefore be completed by additional research. As examples, they invite for further investigations on the effect of CD on cognitive and brain function as well as on the risk of falls (considering CD improves fall-related physical factors such as strength of balance).

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