Dance like Zorba… The health benefits of traditional dancing in old age

The Mail — It may be associated with holiday tavernas and the classic film Zorba the Greek.

But traditional Greek dancing can have major health benefits. Taking it up allowed elderly patients who had suffered chronic heart failure to jump higher than their sedentary counterparts, a study found.

The moves strengthened the legs of the participants, who had an average age of 73, allowing them to walk faster and further as well.

Zacharias Vordos, an exercise physiologist at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki in Greece, said: ‘We believed dancing would increase the attractiveness of rehabilitation programmes for patients with chronic heart failure.

Mr Vordos said the traditional dance was chosen because Greek dancing is an important part of weddings and other celebrations, and is popular among older people.

The study included 40 Greek patients with chronic heart failure who were randomly assigned to a three-month rehabilitation programme based on traditional Greek dancing or to their usual sedentary lifestyle. Exercise training took place at three municipal gyms, and consisted of three 40 to 65 minute weekly sessions. None of those who took part had exercised in the previous year.

At the start and finish of the study, the researchers tested patients’ ability to jump using machine called a dynamometer.

This measured the jump height, the amount of time the feet were in contact with the ground, and the strength and speed of the jumps.

For patients who were hard of hearing, an alarm and a visible signal indicated when they should start jumping.

Their leg muscle strength was measured with another dynamometer, and their walking ability was measured using a six-minute walking test.

There was no difference between either group at the start of the study, but after three months those who did the Greek dancing had legs that were 10 per cent stronger than those who took no exercise, jumped 10 per cent higher, and 6 per cent faster.

Taking up dancing allowed elderly patients who had suffered chronic heart failure to jump higher than their sedentary counterparts, the study found (file photo of women exercising)

The sedentary group showed no change, according to the study published in European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

While Greek dancing is sometimes associated with breaking plates in the public mind, no crockery was harmed during the study.

Mr Vordos said: ‘Our study shows that traditional Greek dancing improves strength, endurance and jumping ability in elderly patients with heart failure.

‘Patients who participated in Greek dancing jumped higher at the end of the training programme, probably because they had stronger leg muscles.’

He continued: ‘The physical benefits of Greek dancing should give patients more independence in daily life by helping them to walk and climb stairs.

‘It should also improve their coordination and reduce their risk of falling and being injured. It is possible that Greek dancing also gives cardiac benefit as demonstrated by Zumba fitness programmes with Latin music.’

The Greek dancing sessions had a very high take-up rate among the pensioners, the authors of the study found.

Mr Vordos noted: ‘Attendance at the dancing sessions was more than 90 per cent, which suggests that this type of cardiac rehabilitation could attract more patients than the usual programmes.

‘Traditional Greek dancing is enjoyable and sociable, and we have now shown that it leads to health benefits in elderly patients with chronic heart failure.’

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