Dance For Life

Training Exercise
Besides doing exercise with the desire to lose or control weight, there are other reasons why people do exercise.
For almost all of us, mother nature and father time show no mercy; we have to exercise and train to stay independent as we age. For still yet others, not necessarily mutually exclusive, they have to do training exercise (physical therapy) after an injury or an accident. For professionals, coaches, competitors, fitness enthusiasts, they have to exercise and train to get good at what they are doing. Others just need to look good to stay ahead and be successful in their profession. Whatever the reason, they employ different forms of training regimens to develop stamina, endurance, and muscles.

Each year one in 3 Americans 65 and older falls, and that falls and their sometimes disastrous medical consequences are becoming more common as the population ages. Balance is not talked about in fitness circles as often as strength training, aerobics and stretching. The sense of balance begins to degrade in one’s 20s and that it is downhill from there—literally and figuratively—unless steps are taken to preserve or restore this delicate and critically important ability to maintain equilibrium.6
One normal consequence of aging is a steady decline in the three main sensory contributors to good balance—vision, proprioceptors on the bottoms of the feet that communicate position information to the brain, and the tiny hairs in the semicircular canals of the inner ear that relay gravity and motion information to the brain. Add to that the loss of muscle strength and flexibility that typically accompany aging and you have a fall waiting to happen.
But while certain declines with age are unavoidable, physical therapists, physiatrists (rehabilitation physicians) and fitness experts have repeatedly proved that much of the sense of balance can be preserved and even restored through exercises that require no special equipment or training. These exercises are as simple as standing on one foot while brushing your teeth or walking heel-to-toe with one foot directly in front of the other, something that one does very often in dancing.

Testing for Equilibrium
Marilyn Moffat and Carole B. Lewis, physical therapists in New York and Washington, respectively, agree that balance is an area of physical fitness that is often overlooked. They define balance as “the ability of your body to maintain equilibrium when you stand, walk or perform any other daily activity” like putting on pants, walking on uneven ground or reaching for something on a shelf.Dr. Moffat and Dr. Lewis suggest starting with a simple assessment of your current ability to maintain good balance.
With a counter or sturdy furniture near enough to steady you if needed, perform this test:7
1. Stand straight, wearing flat, closed shoes, with your arms folded across your chest. Raise one leg, bending the knee about 45 degrees, start a stopwatch and close your eyes.
2. Remain on one leg, stopping the watch immediately if you uncross your arms, tilt sideways more than 45 degrees, move the leg you are standing on or touch the raised leg to the floor.
3. Repeat this test with the other leg.
Now, compare your performance to the norms for various ages:
• 20 to 49 years old: 24 to 28 seconds.
• 50 to 59 years: 21 seconds.
• 60 to 69 years: 10 seconds.
• 70 to 79 years: 4 seconds.
• 80 and older: most cannot do it at all.
If you are wise, whatever your age, you will want to strive for the norm of those younger than 50. To increase stability and strengthen the legs, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight out in front. Lift one foot behind, bending the knee at 45 degrees. Hold that position for five seconds or longer, if possible.

Figure 1. Exercises to improve balance: move slowly; hold each position for 1 second; repeat 8–15 times; hold on to a chair with one hand for balance, try no hands if steady, then with eyes closed. (Source: “Fitness over fifty” by the National Institute on Aging).

Repeat this exercise five times. Then switch legs. As you improve, try one-leg stands with your eyes closed.
There are many opportunities you can also incorporate one-leg stands into your daily routines: for example, while on the cellular phone, brushing your teeth, waiting in line or for a bus, watching TV, or washing dishes.

Exercises to Build a Motor Skill
Balance is a motor skill. To enhance it, you have to train your balance in the same way you would have to train your muscles for strength and your heart for aerobic capacity.
Dr. Moffat pointed out that balance is twofold: static while standing still and dynamic when moving, as in walking, climbing stairs or spinning during dancing. Two main routes improve balance: exercises that increase the strength of the ankle, knee and hip muscles, and exercises that improve the function of the vestibular system.
Like one-leg stands, many can be done as part of a daily routine. Dr. Moffat recommends starting with strength exercises and, as you improve, adding vestibular training by doing some of them with closed eyes.
Sit-to-stand exercises once or twice a day increase ankle, leg and hip strength and help the body adjust to changes in position without becoming dizzy after being sedentary for a long time. Sit straight in a firm chair (do not lean against the back) with arms crossed. Stand up straight and sit down again as quickly as you can without using your arms. Repeat the exercise three times and build to 10 repetitions.
Heel-to-toe tandem walking is another anytime exercise, resembling plank walking popular with young children. It is best done on a firm, uncarpeted floor. With stomach muscles tight and chin tucked in, place one foot in front of the other such that the heel of the front foot nearly touches the toe of the back foot (like in a Latin walk in dances). Walk 10 or more feet and repeat the exercise once or twice a day.
Also try walking on your toes and then walking on your heels to strengthen your ankles. Another helpful exercise is sidestepping. Facing a wall, step sideways with one leg and bring the other foot to it, just like in the Merengue or Bachata dance. Perform this 10 times in each direction. After mastering that, try a dance-like maneuver that starts with sidestepping once to the right. Then cross the left leg behind, sidestep to the right again and cross the left leg in front (this sequence of moves is a form of grapevine in dances). Repeat this 10 times. Then do it in the other direction.
In addition, the slow, continuous movements of tai chi, that popular Chinese exercise, have been shown in scientific
studies to improve balance and reduce the risk of falls.8

Training To “Retire”
Statistics show that women can expect to live 13 years longer than their mother or their maternal grandmother, and men can expect 11 more years than their father or paternal grandfather. Thus geriatric specialists wish that more people would “train to retire.” Too often, they say, people equate retirement planning with 401(k)s and mutual funds. While financial planning is important, there are also psychological and physical implications to retirement preparation. With longer life expectancy, it has become even more important to train for those aspects of old age.
In fact, we are getting to the point where people’s retirement life stage may be longer than their work life stage. So with the first wave of baby boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—already in their 60s, gerontologists are bracing for a tsunami of disgruntled post retirees who have left the psychic and physical aspects of aging to chance. “We’re going to have a whole generation of people who are healthy, wealthy and bored,” said Dorothy Cantor, a psychologist.9
Or perhaps not so healthy. Regarding the statistics that baby boomers are most likely to live well into their 80s and even beyond, Age Wave, a research group that focuses on aging, says that there is also a 40% chance that one half of a 65-year-old couple today will live to be 90. And barring drastic medical breakthroughs, these people will be coping with failing eyes and ears, and stiffening joints—with many also suffering dementia and depression, not to mention heart problems.
While the medical community is relatively good at fixing acute conditions like heart attacks, it still does not have the solutions to those chronic conditions that can rob one of satisfaction and joy in old age. Surveys show that few people want to relocate when they are older, yet many must because their homes are not age-proofed—too many stairs, or no wheelchair access—or because they have not built up a social support structure for themselves.
Nor are baby boomers certain of how much time they will have to plan. Since the U.S. Congress struck down mandatory retirement in 1986, many people have chosen to work into their 70s—only to find that when they do finally quit, their friends and, possibly, their spouses have died, their children live far away, and they have no idea how to fill their days.
It used to be normative—one worked until 65 and then retired. These days, one just cannot expect that kind of seamless transition. Corporate restructurings—for example, Silicon Valley, California after the 2000 dotcom demise, or offshore outsourcing of U.S. jobs to foreign countries—have forced many people into retirement long before they are prepared to write the next chapter of their lives.
A result, depression already is a close second to dementia as a major problem for aging adults. In a sense, that is no surprise. People lose much more than a paycheck when they retire or when they are let go early. They lose a community of like-minded souls, a sense of power and accomplishment and an important line of demarcation between workdays and weekends. They also lose a feeling of personal identity that is difficult to replace late in life. Nancy K. Schlossberg, an author, remembers meeting with a group of retirees from the World Bank, “What they missed most was the respect they got when they said where they worked. When they retired, they lost their tag.”10
Dancing will help develop a circle of social network when friends gather together for a setting that is casual for socializing.

5 “Badminton fans boast of feathers and aerobics”, The New York Times, October 22, 1989.
6 Scott McCredie, Balance: In search of the lost sense, (Little, Brown and Company, New York, USA, 2007).
7 Marilyn Moffat, and Carole B.Lewis, Age Defying Fitness: Making the most of your body for the rest of your life, (Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta, Georgia,
USA, 2006).
8 Jane E. Brody, “Preserving a fundamental sense: balance”, The New York Times, January 8, 2008.
9 Dorothy Cantor, and Andrea Thompson, What Do You Want to Do when You Grow Up?: Starting the new chapter of your life”, (Little, Brown and
Company, New York, USA, 2002).
10 Nancy K. Schlossberg, Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding your true path in life, (American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C., USA, 2003).

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