Get Healthy with Latin Dance

University of Illinois researcher David X. Marquez and dance instructor Miguel Mendez developed a culturally-tailored Latin dance fitness program called BAILAMOS©. Created as part of a community-based intervention program, BAILAMOS© incorporates Latin dance styles, such as merengue, bachata, cha cha cha, and salsa, to help increase physical fitness in older Latinos. After 4-months of biweekly participation, dance students were able to walk faster and showed improved physical fitness across the board.

The American Heart Association Says…

The American Heart Association (AHA) includes increasing physical activity as one of its 2020 Impact Goals to improve cardiovascular health for all. The AHA recommends no less than 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both. According to the AHA, exercising consistently helps reduce your risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and helps moderate age-related complications such as shaky balance, impaired mobility, and high stress levels.

How Latin Dance Stacks Up 

Dance fitness class working out.

Research presented by University of Chicago researchers at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions suggests that Latin dance is a wonderful way to get older adults moving, and improve overall health in the process. Fifty-four Spanish-speaking adults (approximately 65 years old and made up of 80% Mexican females) were randomly enrolled in either a Latin dance class that met twice a week for four months, or a health education program.

At the end of the four months, older Latinos who attended dance classes were able to walk faster and significantly increased their physical activity levels outside of dance class as well.

Specifically:

  • At the start of the study, participants completed a 400-meter walk in 430 seconds. After 4 months of dancing, participants completed the same 400-meter walk in just 392 seconds, an improvement of nearly 9%.
  • Leisure physical activity increased by approximately 3 hours a week (from 650 minutes to 818 minutes a week)

These results are particularly impressive when juxtaposed with those of the health education group. Older Latinos enrolled in the health education program improved their time in the 400-meter walk by a mere 10 seconds (vs. the 38-second improvement in the dance group) and increased weekly leisure physical activity a little over an hour and a half a week.

Priscilla Vásquez, M.P.H., lead study author at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explains the significance of the findings:

“There are many barriers older Latino adults face, and they are busy with caregiving and other responsibilities, so often physical activity takes a back seat and many times the opportunities are unavailable. This program engaged them on many levels, physically, culturally and emotionally. Anecdotally, I’ve heard participants say attending dance class is their stress relief. They also interact with others and build community. This impacts their physical as well as emotional health and well-being.”

Researchers are now investigating the potential of BAILAMOS© to help with mild cognitive impairment in older Latinos.

Dance It Out

You don’t have to be Latino or elderly to enjoy, and reap the benefits of, Latin dance. Consider joining a salsa or tango class, or take some Zumba classes at your local gym. Zumba is a Latin-inspired dance cardio program that mixes hip-hop with merengue, soca, samba, salsa, mambo, and more, depending on the teacher. And keep an eye out for BAILAMOS©. You never know when it will hit the mainstream!

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