The Importance of Music and Dancing for the Brain and Body

BY: 

INSPĪR SENIOR LIVING TEAM

As we age, our bodies undergo a variety of physical changes, which can make exercise and physical activity difficult. At Inspīr Carnegie Hill, as part of our Nine Core Elements, incorporating movement, mobility, and music into the daily lives of our residents is of the utmost importance. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28% of adults over 50 years old have reported being inactive. Although inactivity increases with age, the need for physical exercise is crucial, especially for older adults. Inactivity can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression and increases the risk of certain cancers, high blood pressure, and coronary heart disease. The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week for older adults, which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain illnesses and improve overall well-being.

Although exercise can be intimidating, especially for newcomers, it doesn’t have to be stressful. Exercising can be fun. Many older adults achieve their physical activity goals through dance, reaping its many physical and mental benefits along the way.

Benefits of Dancing for Older Adults

An article published in the National Library of Medicine confirms that “dance, regardless of its style, can significantly improve muscular strength, endurance, balance, and other aspects of functional fitness.” While dancing might seem like a simple activity, it requires the brain and the body to work together, improving our physical, mental, and emotional well-being in the following ways:

Improves Cardiovascular Health — When we participate in cardiovascular exercises, like dancing, our hearts become stronger and work more efficiently. When done consistently, dancing can help decrease our risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Improves Balance and Strength — Falling is the leading cause of injury in older adults. While the risk of falling can’t be completely avoided, dancing can help decrease the risk of fall-related injuries. Dance requires strong core muscles and involves rotational movement, which can help improve balance.

Strengthens Brain Function — Some research suggests that dancing can help strengthen the area of the brain responsible for controlling memory. One study suggests that dancing can even prevent the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Dancing also requires the synchronization of the body and brain. Dancers constantly recall steps and patterns while also performing the movements.

Boosts Mood — Movement can be a form of self-expression, which is especially helpful for those suffering from stress and anxiety. While we dance, our bodies also release endorphins, which act as natural mood boosters in our bodies.

Encourages Socialization — Older adults are at greater risk of loneliness and isolation, especially when they live alone. Loneliness can have a profound negative impact on cognitive skills and physical health when left untreated for long periods. Dance classes encourage socialization and provide a great opportunity to meet those with similar interests.

Improves Confidence and Self-Esteem — Every time we learn a new step or dance routine, we increase our self-esteem, which can be translated into different aspects of our lives.

Amanda Clears, Associate Director of Resident Experience, told us that “dance and movement are an incredibly important aspect of care and wellness at Inspīr. Dance is a beautiful form of self-expression. We see how much joy it brings to our residents, and it is certainly contagious. We have several programs that incorporate dance.  

Rhythm and Movement are offered with Terrence Poplar, our in-house Alvin Ailey dancer and Experience Specialist. Terrance takes our residents in memory care through the different positions in ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance.

Terrence also offers Dance Academy, an educational program for Sol (Assisted Living) and Oceana (Memory Care) residents. For Dance Academy, he pulls from his personal experience with various forms of dance and describes their histories and techniques. 

Our partner, Namaste Wellness, offers Dance Cardio for all levels of care. Each Sunday, we screen a ballet, opera, or orchestra from Stage Access in our screening room, which gets feet tapping and helps trigger memories. 

Every week we offer musical performances. While they are not created for the sole purpose of dancing, our residents often get up and move, especially when we welcome a jazz ensemble. 

Music and the Brain

What’s dancing without music? While dancing has many benefits, so does the music that accompanies it. Research has shown that music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain while also improving our sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. While many scientists are still studying music and its effect on the brain, experts agree that music sends out vibrations that enter our ear canal and transmit electrical signals into the brain stem, where we process what we know to be music. Researchers are still working to understand exactly what happens in our brains as we listen to music. But there are proven benefits that have a positive effect on our overall well-being.

Together, music and the act of dancing can stimulate the brain and body, encouraging overall health in many different ways. Music is proven to help with memory, especially in those with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. Depending on your loved one, music can provoke memories from the past and help boost verbal memory.

In addition to improving memory, music can improve one’s quality of sleep, diminish pain, increase mobility, and improve cognitive skills. Research shows that those who are in the process of recovering from brain injuries can often recover more quickly when music is a part of the rehabilitation process. Music, along with dance, has also been shown to reduce stress levels and promote relaxation.

5 Different Types of Dance

If you are interested in dancing but are not sure where to start, you can always play your favorite songs and dance alone. For those who prefer structure, a guided dance class might be a better fit. Here are a few styles of dance that can be adapted to fit different skill levels. Remember to always consult your doctor before participating in new exercise activities, especially for those who have health concerns.

  • Ballroom dancing is a great social opportunity for seniors since it requires a partner. But, don’t let this stop you! You don’t always need to come with a partner, as many classes will pair you with another student. There are many different types of ballroom dances, such as foxtrot, waltz, rumba, and swing. All of these varieties will help build strength while promoting balance.
  • Line dancing is perfect for those who want guidance yet prefer to dance without a partner. Most line dances include choreography taught by a teacher to western or country music.
  • Tap dancing will help build strength, balance, and endurance through its quick movements and transitions.
  • Zumba is a workout class that looks like a dance party! The objective of Zumba is to increase the heart rate while having fun dancing to music. A Zumba teacher will guide you through low-impact movements and can adapt movements for you if necessary.
  • Ballet classes might seem intimidating but can be adapted to fit your needs. A popular form of ballet exercise, called Barre, incorporates a ballet bar into each movement, helping you improve balance while decreasing your risk of injury.

Inspīr delivers a transformative senior living experience that exceeds every dimension of senior care. We curate an environment and lifestyle that supports a philosophy of vibrant, intentional living and meaningful connection.