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Older Women Can Improve Health Factors Through Dancing, Study Suggests

Women dancing

Key Takeaways

  • After menopause, women are more likely to see increased health risks, but dancing can help mitigate them, a new study suggests.
  • Dancing seems to have a significant effect on improving cholesterol levels and functional fitness, which are both important for heart health.
  • Another component of dancing that may boost health is the social connection that comes from the activity.

After menopause, women are more likely to see increased health risks due to higher triglyceride levels, lower HDL "good" cholesterol levels, and other metabolic factors. For this reason, they’re often encouraged to control those factors through diet and exercise.

A new study in the journal Menopause suggests one form of physical activity may stand out more than others—dancing.

About the Study

Researchers asked 36 postmenopausal women to do dance therapy sessions three times per week for 16 weeks. Dancing was chosen because it’s considered an enjoyable, low-impact activity that has been shown to improve balance, gait, and strength.

At the end of the study, participants showed:

  • Lower triglycerides
  • Higher HDL “good” cholesterol
  • Better self-image
  • Improved coordination
  • Better aerobic capability
  • Higher self-esteem

Protecting the Heart

Although the recent study is limited in scope due to the small number of participants, finding more ways to improve heart health for mature women is crucial. Their risks for heart health issues increase considerably after menopause, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In fact, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women.

The AHA notes that these heart health risks may increase due to:

Potentially exacerbating the situation, another study in Menopause found that some medications commonly used among mature women could make them more susceptible to weight gain.

In that study, involving more than 76,000 postmenopausal women, those who used medications for controlling depression and anxiety, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure were more likely to experience a steady weight increase when compared to women of the same age range who didn't take these medications.

Taking the Right Steps

Putting strategies into place that can counteract weight gain as well as reduce sedentary behavior will not only improve cardiovascular markers but also can be a valuable way for women to manage their heart health.

Exercising regularly is a strong start, especially because it addresses the emotional changes that can come with menopause as well, says trainer Ronnie Lubischer, CSCS, of Burn & Blast Training in New Jersey.

"For the older women that I train, I see a great deal of frustration and a feeling that they're personally failing because of issues like weight. It really takes a toll on their self-esteem," Lubischer says. "That’s why it’s helpful to think about diet and exercise as a way to reset health for years to come, not just about reducing menopause-related weight [gain].”

Finding an activity that’s enjoyable—such as dancing—is absolutely vital for maintaining long-term fitness, he adds. Having to drag yourself through a workout routine will be counterproductive and short-lived.

Ronnie Lubischer, CSCS

When you look forward to an activity—when you’re excited to do it—that’s when it goes from being a well-intentioned habit to a healthy behavior.

— Ronnie Lubischer, CSCS

The Social Factor

Another important aspect of dancing is likely the social component, which has been shown to be essential for lowering the risk of anxiety, depression, and isolation, says Scott Kaiser, MD, geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that loneliness and isolation are linked to so many serious health conditions among seniors—including dementia and heart disease—that they constitute a public health risk.

“Maintaining social connections as you get older brings many health benefits, that’s been shown in numerous studies,” Dr. Kaiser says. "When you add physical activity to [social connection], that’s the best possible strategy because you’re getting exercise, laughing with your friends, and lowering health risks along the way."

Scott Kaiser, MD

When you add physical activity to [social connection], that’s the best possible strategy because you’re getting exercise, laughing with your friends, and lowering health risks along the way.

— Scott Kaiser, MD

Getting together with other people, even if they’re strangers, for an activity like a dance class can go a long way toward counteracting loneliness, he says. If it’s not possible to take a dance class, try one that’s online because that can emulate the feel of an in-person class. Even some impromptu dancing in the living room with a friend could provide a boost to your mood.

“It doesn’t matter what age you are, being active and having fun with your friends is always good for you,” Dr. Kaiser says.

What This Means For You

Participating in an activity like dancing can be good for heart health in mature women, a recent study suggests. In fact, dancing potentially leads to lower cholesterol, better self-image, and fewer chronic health risks. What's more, it improves mood due to the social component, so look for ways to incorporate dancing into your life. And if in-person classes are not an option, look into online dancing classes or have an impromptu dance in your home with a friend or family member.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Heart Association. Menopause and heart disease. Updated July 31, 2015.

  2. Teixeira GR, Veras ASC, Rocha APR, et al. Dance practice modifies functional fitness, lipid profile, and self-image in postmenopausal women. Menopause. 2021. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000001818

  3. American Heart Association. Cardiovascular Disease: Women's No. 1 Health threat. Updated March 2018.

  4. Stanford FC, Cena H, Biino G, et al. The association between weight-promoting medication use and weight gain in postmenopausal women: findings from the Women's Health Initiative. Menopause. 2020;27(10):1117-1125. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000001589

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Loneliness and social isolation linked to serious health conditions. Updated April 29. 2021.