Dance well for the heart and good for the brain, as exercise, socializing helps to reduce the risk of dementia

Written by Javed Iqbal

Dancing is more than a hobby for retiree Lou Tiziani; it helps him stay young.

Twice a week he helps organize New Vogue dance events in the Wollongong area and runs its own website with all dances in the region from the highlands to the south coast.

An elderly man in a blue polo shirt dances with a woman in a striped top.
New Vogue sequence dance originated in colonial Australia in the 1930s in the town halls and country sheds.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

He has participated in sequence dance – rock-and-roll, ballroom and New Vogue among the routines – for more than a decade, and each month he performs 68 different dances.

“Trying to remember them all … this helps the brain, and it definitely keeps your fitness level up by doing so,” he said.

During lockdowns, Mr. Tiziani and his partner Lyn Child noticed that their fitness levels were falling.

“It took a while to realize, ‘Hold on, we’re getting older, and we’re not doing anything,’ and we have to do something, and that’s the main reason we’re doing this dance activity; it’s to keep up. us a little bit fitter than we normally would be, “he said.

Associate Professor Michael Woodward, Honorary Medical Adviser for Dementia Australia, believes they are on track for something.

“We now recognize that one of the biggest fears of older people is developing dementia or Alzheimer’s [disease]so it is understandable that people want to do what they can to reduce their risk, “he said.

Dancers in a hall
People meet regularly at Marshall Mount Hall to participate in New Vogue sequence dancing. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)


A woman in a colorful top smiles.  She is standing in front of a country hall
Dance enthusiast Cris Terry highly recommends New Vogue.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Cris Terry started dancing when she was five years old after her great-grandmother made a skirt for her, and since then she has barely stopped to catch her breath.

“She made a twisted skirt for me, so I always used to walk around in circles to make my skirt spin,” Mrs. Terry said.

“I did a little rock-and-roll and ballroom, but for the last 20 years I started doing New Vogue, bushdance and Scottish country, Irish as well as rock-and-roll,” she said.

Mrs Terry said she loved that dancing helped her stay fit and alert.

“I could not tell you how many dances I know, but your brain works all the time, so it’s good for it, and it’s good for you socially,” she said.

“They say it’s the best thing to ward off Alzheimer’s, so it has my cross.”

Cris and a friend are dancing
Mrs. Terry invites male friends to dance with her, but says there is no shortage of dance partners when she goes alone.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Prevention is better than cure

Over the past decade, individuals have become very aware of the large number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and the things we can do to prevent it.

“We have always known what is good for our heart, and there is a lot of overlap between what is good for the heart, is good for our brain,” said Dr. Woodward.

The rhythm of life

Robyn Rumble has been dancing at the Shoalhaven Heads Bowling Club for 28 years, and after her husband’s stroke, the couple was determined to train every day.

Because of the benefits, doctors encouraged them to go dancing.

“We have to keep moving, exercising; it helps the brain, it helps the balance, it also helps the memory to remember the dances,” Ms Rumble said.

“The different styles of tunes, quicksteps, foxtrots; they all keep you going for a certain rhythm, and it helps.”

A woman wearing black is standing next to a man in a blue-collar shirt inside a country hall.
Robyn Rumble and her husband dance several times a week, both in Shoalhaven Heads and in Marshall Mount Hall.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Many of the dancers at the Tuesday night group in Shoalhaven Heads are close to retirement age, and there are many over 80 years old.

“There are no young people coming in at the moment to take this kind of dance,” Ms Rumble said.

Dancers stand side by side inside a country hall.
Marshall Mount Hall is for dancing only as the floor is considered to be of superior quality.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Regardless of age, she says it is a lot of fun to attend balls across the country.

Associate Professor Michael Woodward is wearing a shirt with a collar and suit.  He's looking outside
Michael Woodward is in no doubt about the benefits of dance.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“My husband and I, we’ve been down to Merimbula a few weeks ago for a ball there, Wagga a few weeks before that, and this coming weekend we’re going out to Caloundra for a 12-hour dance weekend,” Rumble said.

Dementia Australia suggests that people start dancing earlier in life instead of waiting for retirement.

“Reducing the risk of dementia begins essentially in your 30s and 40s, so don’t wait until your 70s; participate in sequence dancing, line dancing, or anything as early as possible,” said Dr. Woodward.

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Javed Iqbal

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