Many women who shun the gym do belly dance as their main exercise and enjoy the fitness benefits along with the fun. Unlike some forms of dance, such as ballet, belly dance is more physically accessible to most women in the general population. It also remains an activity they can safely pursue as they mature. In fact, belly dance is very well suited as exercise for maturing women.
Studies tell us that by age 75, 66% of women report no physical activity whatsoever. A certain level of fitness and range of motion is needed to perform daily activities and live independently. This doesn’t happen suddenly at age 75, but creeps up on these women starting in their 40’s and 50’s when they could be dancing against the tide of aging to prevent this. Let’s look at some ways that belly dance can benefit mature women.
- Belly dance is a low or no-impact activity so it protects joints that have seen some wear and tear over the years.
- Belly dance improves balance. 30% of women at 65 and 50% of women at 75 suffer one fall per year. Dancing strengthens the muscles we use for walking and standing up straight to improve stability while moving or standing still
- Belly dance is a weight-bearing activity so it helps to preserve bone density in the hips and legs. Fragile bones combined with impaired balance often lead to hip fractures, which are devastating and sometimes fatal in older women.
- Belly dance helps to strengthen core muscles, protecting the spine, improving posture and reinforcing balance.
- Belly dance is a light to moderate activity. This fills the bill for recommendations of accumulating 30 minutes most or all days of the week. This kind of conditioning helps minimize daily fatigue and shortness of breath while climbing stairs or carrying groceries.
- Belly dance is a group activity. Staying socially engaged improves mental outlook and feelings of well-being, especially important for seniors.
- Done on a regular basis, belly dancing at a moderate level of acitivity can help prevent or reduce the age-related accumulation of fat in the abdomen. This not only makes you look better, but improves your insulin sensitivity, warding off Type II diabetes which develops in 1 in 4 of people over 65.
- For the 29% of women over 45 that have osteoarthritis, belly dance (and gentle exercise in general) helps to maintain joint function. It cannot reverse joint damage, but it will not hasten it or exacerbate pain either, according to research studies.
- As a low to moderate level of regular exercise, belly dance can lower blood pressure 8-10 mm Hg in healthy women and in those with mild hypertension. That might be just enough to keep some borderline women off blood pressure medication.
If you already dance, as many of my blog readers do, then you already know that above all it is FUN! It can also be challenging, keeping you learning new things which is good for your brain too. The beauty of belly dance as a lifetime pursuit is that it can positively change the way we age – and face it, nobody gets to stay 25 forever! It is also a dance that can change along with our bodies. Most of us will give up splits, laybacks and Turkish drops at some point, but the dance remains full of the beauty, subtlety and grace that drew us to it in the first place.
So whether you are in your 20th year of dancing or just starting out at age 50, know that you are doing something good for yourself today, and for the health of the future, more mature you.
How has your experience with belly dance changed as you have gotten older? Did you come to belly dance later in life? How has it affected your health? Tell us in the comments below…