One More Reason to Keep Dancing

Dancing may help older adults maintain activities of daily living, study finds.

Posted Dec 19, 2018

Pexels/CCO license
Source: Pexels/CCO license

Dancing is so much fun; most people don't even consider it exercise. Doesn’t everybody secretly love to dance? Unfortunately, as we age, most people tend to dance less and less. That said, if you’re one of the millions of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 who are approaching older age, a new study suggests that you should probably be dancing more.

For anyone who generally hates to exercise, the best news from this study (Osuka et al., 2018) on the potential benefits of 16 different types of exercise for helping older adults maintain activities of daily living is that dancing got top scores.

What Are the Tasks Associated with ADL? 

Activities of daily living (ADL) include five day-to-day tasks that are key to maintaining independence across your lifespan and in older age: (1) walking, (2) eating, (3) bathing, (4) dressing, and (5) toileting.

"Although it is unclear why dancing alone reduced the risk of activities of daily living disability, dancing requires not only balance, strength, and endurance ability, but also cognitive ability: adaptability and concentration to move according to the music and partner, artistry for graceful and fluid motion, and memory for choreography," lead author Yosuke Osuka, of the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, said in a statement. "We think that these various elements may contribute to the superiority of dancing in maintaining a higher activities of daily life capacity."

For this study, Osuka and colleagues recruited 1,003 community-dwelling older Japanese women who were able to perform all of the activities of daily living at the beginning of the study. During a baseline face-to-face interview, study participants were asked whether or not they regularly participated in any of 16 different exercise types.

Over the course of eight years, the researchers conducted regular follow-ups to see if any participants had lost their independence with at least one of the five ADL tasks. During the 8-year span of this study, 130 participants (13 percent) lost their ability to either walk, eat, bath, dress, or toilet.

After adjusting for confounders, the researchers found that participation in dancing, compared with non-participation, was associated with a 73 percent significantly lower likelihood for developing any type of ADL disability. Notably, this 8‐year population‐based prospective cohort study found no significant associations between other types of exercise and ADL disability. Although the cohort for this study was older women, there’s no reason to believe that older men wouldn’t reap similar benefits from dancing.

Need Some Motivation to Start Dancing? Try Listening to Upbeat Songs with Vivid Personal Memories

Last week, I wrote a post, "The No. 1 Reason Music Has the Power to Make Us Feel Good." Two outside sources inspired this post: First, a recent Finnish study (Maksimainen et al., 2018) which identified that music with strong autobiographical memories from someone’s past evokes powerful positive emotions. Second, a post “Boogie Your Way to Better Mental Health,” by fellow blogger, John-Manuel Andriote (author of Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco and Stonewall Strong.)

Andriote writes, “[Dancing] is good for our mental health. Dancing is known to release endorphins in our brains and uplift our mood. It can relieve anxiety. It can help stimulate neuron growth. Studies suggest dancing is even good for people with dementia. What’s not to like about all those positive benefits? Millions of people across the world in the latter half of the 1970s certainly liked them when, for a few years anyway, disco music took over the pop charts and popular culture.”

If you need some help refreshing your memory on specific chart-topping songs from your past that might evoke vivid feel-good memories and inspire you to dance, I strongly recommend revisiting the Billboard Chart Archives. These archives start in 1958 when baby boomers born in 1946 were just about to enter their teenage years.

At the top of the Billboard archive webpage, you'll see a list of decades starting in the 1950s. First, click on a decade when you remember dancing more regularly. Then, scroll down to a specific year and search the archives for songs that bring back vivid personal memories and also make you want to "Boogie Oogie Oogie." (For example, this is the Hot 100 from 1978, when lots of baby boomers were disco dancing regularly.) 

The reason I chose a picture of Elvis Presley as the teaser for this post is to trigger some autobiographical memories for older adults who were adolescents when his music topped the charts. Elvis dominated the Hot 100 throughout the 1950s. 

In closing, I’ve curated ten classic Elvis songs that were number-one smash hits during the 1950s. Hopefully, these songs will inspire older adults, baby boomers, and people of all ages to get up from your chair and dance!

10 Chart-Topping Elvis Presley Songs from the 1950s

"I Want You, I Need You, I Love You"

"Hound Dog"

"Jailhouse Rock"

"Heartbreak Hotel"

"All Shook Up"

"A Big Hunk O' Love”

"Too Much"


"Love Me Tender"

"(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear"


Yosuke Osuka, Narumi Kojima, Miji Kim, Chang Won Won, Takao Suzuki, Hunkyung Kim. “Exercise Type and Activities of Daily Living Disability in Older Women: An 8‐Year Population‐Based Cohort Study.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports (First published: December 18, 2018) DOI: 10.1111/sms.13336

Johanna Maksimainen, Jan Wikgren, Tuomas Eerola, and Suvi Saarikallio. "The Effect of Memory in Inducing Pleasant Emotions with Musical and Pictorial Stimuli." Scientific Reports (First published: December 5, 2018) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-35899-y