In the News!
Cognitive and Physical Benefits of Dance
A 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and
published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2004. Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including
The study wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity. They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial
effect. Other activities had none.
They studied cognitive activities such as reading books, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards and playing musical instruments. And they studied
physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework.
One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. There can be cardiovascular benefits
of course, but the focus of this study was the mind. There was one important exception: the ONLY physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent
Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia
Bicycling and swimming - 0%
Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47%
Playing golf - 0%
Dancing frequently - 76%... the greatest risk reduction
Dr. Joseph Coyle, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist wrote:
“The cerebral cortex and hippocampus, which are critical to these activities, are remarkably plastic, and they rewire themselves based upon their use.” It appears that
persons who dance are more resistant to the effects of dementia as a result of having greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses. Our
brain constantly rewires its neural pathways, as needed. If it doesn't need to, then it won't.
The key here is the emphasis on the complexity of our neuronal synapses. More is better. Do whatever you can to create new neural paths. The opposite of this is
taking the same old well-worn path over and over again, with habitual patterns of thinking and living our lives.
The Albert Einstein College of Medicine study shows that we need to keep as many of those paths active as we can, while also generating new paths, to maintain the
complexity of our neuronal synapses.
Look at the intelligence in dancing. The essence of intelligence is making decisions. And the concluding advice, when it comes to improving your mental acuity, is to
involve yourself in activities which require split-second rapid-fire decision making, as opposed to rote memory (retracing the same well-worn paths), or just working on your
physical style. Dancing integrates several brain functions at once, increasing your connectivity. Dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical and
In addition to the benefits for the brain, let’s look beneath the obvious physical benefits to the deeper benefits that have been recently discovered as described by Dr.
Mark Liponis, author of UltraLongevity: The Seven-step Program for a Younger, Healthier You. Dance is Step Number 4.
Rhythmic movement, or moving to a particular rhythm is the essence of any dance. The most important new discoveries about movement confirm that it offers benefits
across a wide range of health conditions, and has a positive impact on the immune system and on aging itself. Dancing, rather than just moving, has been shown to have
the greatest effect on CRP levels (in other words, it reduces inflammation). Further studies show that adding music to the rehabilitation of Parkinson’s disease patients
has improved outcome when compared with standard physical therapy. Participants receiving music/dance therapy also scored higher on a happiness measure. When we
are breathing well, we’re breathing rhythmically. Or, consider the body’s most obvious rhythm: the heartbeat. Loss of normal heart rhythm has also been linked with
immune activation. Dance improves everything from our balance and gait to bone density in the legs and hips. It creates a better mood. It’s been shown to help with
weight loss and to improve cardiovascular fitness. It lowers cholesterol levels and, it reduces pain. Dance movement may well be the closest thing to the Fountain of
Youth ever studied.
It is clear that dance offers many benefits for older adults. Remember it doesn’t matter what kind of dance… JUST DANCE!
Shelby Living Magazine August 2017
CREATING A MOVEMENT
At 81, Suanne Ferguson just discovered a new variation in her dance world
By Nancy Wilstach
Photos by Keith McCoy
Suanne Ferguson’s feet have danced across stages and studio classrooms, in churches and in concert halls; she has been dancing since she was a toddler.
Now, at 81, her fingers are doing the dancing—across her computer keyboard. Believed to be the nation’s oldest certified Zumba teacher, Ferguson said that
she has more to teach than the feet.
“I want to teach people to take charge of their aging,” Ferguson said, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Oh, I won’t stop dancing—I told my dance students I
will be beside them in the classroom.”
Her latest quest started when she fell on that pallet corner in Aldi’s and broke her shoulder. For many octogenarians, such an injury would have been a fast ticket
to a bed in an assisted living center. Not so for Ferguson; while recovering, she just fell into a career change.
She had been teaching at a frenzied pace, up at dawn, on the road by 6:30, preaching the gospel of movement throughout the Birmingham area, logging
thousands and thousands of miles since 2010. One of her favorite classes was Zumba Gold at the Alabaster Senior Center. Zumba Gold is a low-impact
version of the popular Latin dance routine that is designed to keep older bones and joints happy.
Then came her injury May 8, and Ferguson began examining alternatives that are less frenetic but still focused on her belief in the therapeutic effects of dance
on the human brain.
“There is new science pointing people to dance to stay healthy—evidence is emerging that the movement of dance has a positive effect on the aging process in
the brain,” she said. There is a body of work that suggests dance can mitigate the effects of dementia.
This quick, pert, engaging woman is Exhibit A for healthy aging and probably would make a good scientific study for any grad student who thinks he or she could
maintain the pace.
Ferguson, a Buckeye by birth and a graduate of Western Reserve University in Cleveland, taught ballet for 65 years. She married, had a daughter and a son,
was widowed; she moved to the Birmingham area in 1974. She helped found two ballet academies. Then, in 1996, Ferguson went back to school for a master’s
degree in Universe of Creation Spirituality from Naropa University.
Naropa’s intriguing web site describes this master’s program as helping its students develop “a meaningful life in the 21st century–meaningful for oneself,
meaningful for others, for the planet, and beyond.” That pretty well describes Ferguson’s approach.
After her injury, she said, “at first, I felt overwhelmingly sad, but after I thought it through and the more I move into it, the more excited I am. I know I am going to
have to write every day. And I am preparing a proposal to send to publishers.”
Her book, tentatively titled “Take Charge of Your Aging Now: Ten Timely Tips to Manage the Challenge,” is aimed at those in roughly her children’s age group—
those in their late 40s to early 60s who see old age on the horizon and keep trying to look the other way. Ferguson wants to encourage them to embrace the
advancing years by keeping their bodies alert through movement. Those who would like to know more about Ferguson and her philosophy of “Keep Moving!”
can check out her web site: Suanneferguson.com.