Dancing eases hip or knee pain and helps older adults move better, according to a small Saint Louis University study.
“After dancing, over several months they reported less pain and were able to walk faster,” said Jean Krampe, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing at Saint Louis University and lead author of the article.
The findings are significant because older adults who walk too slowly are more likely to fall, become hospitalized or require care from others, Krampe said.
“Doctors and nurses recognize gait speed as the sixth vital sign that can help us predict adverse outcomes for older adults,” Krampe said.
“Walking just a little more rapidly can make enough of a difference for a person to get across the street more quickly or get to the bathroom faster, which keeps them functional and independent. In our study, those who danced didn’t walk dramatically faster, but they had a meaningful change in their walking speed.”
In addition study participants who danced reported that they reduced their consumption of pain medicine by 39 percent and those who didn’t dance said they took 21 percent more pain medicine.
Krampe and her colleagues from SLU’s School of Nursing and SLU’s department of physical therapy conducted the 12-week study with 34 residents of a senior citizen apartment complex, who were mostly women and an average age of 80. All said they had pain or stiffness in their knees or hips, in most cases caused by arthritis.
Researchers divided the study participant into two groups. Nineteen volunteers were in the group that danced for 45 minutes up to two times a week and 15 did not receive dance therapy. They otherwise engaged in similar physical activities. Overall, the average participant in the dance group attended 21 out of 24 sessions.
“Those in the dance group talked about how much they loved it. It’s exercise, but it’s fun,” Krampe said. “This is not surprising because those in our study are from a generation that loved dancing.”
The specific kind of dance therapy in the study, Healthy-Steps, is a low impact aerobic activity that is slow and rhythmic and can be done sitting or standing. Developed by a dancer and used to improve strength and flexibility during physical and occupational therapy sessions, SLU researchers customized Healthy-Steps for study participants who have arthritis and pain their lower extremities.
“Dance-based therapy for older adults needs to be gentle, slow and include options so it can be performed standing or sitting because their fatigue or pain level can change day to day,” Krampe said.
The research was published this spring in Geriatric Nursing.
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