Dancing for Healthy Aging: Functional and Metabolic Perspectives

Altern Ther Health Med. 2019 Jan;25(1):44-63.


Context: Dancing has been used as a form of exercise to improve functional and metabolic outcomes during aging. The field lacks randomized, clinical trials (RCTs) evaluating metabolic outcomes related to dance interventions, but dancing may be a form of exercise that could induce positive effects on the metabolic health of older adults. However, primary studies seem very heterogonous regarding the trial designs, characteristics of the interventions, the methods for outcomes assessments, statistical powers, and methodological quality.

Objective: The current research team intended to review the literature on the use of dance as a form of intervention to promote functional and metabolic health in older adults. Specifically, the research team aimed to identify and describe the characteristics of a large range of studies using dance as an intervention, summarizing them and putting them into perspective for further analysis.

Design: The research team searched the following data sources-MEDLINE, Cochrane Wiley, Clinical Trials.gov, the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDRO), and the Literatura Latino-Americana e do Caribe em Ciências da Saúde (LILACS)-for RCTs, quasi-experimental studies, and observational trials that compared the benefits of any style of dancing, combined with other exercises or alone, to nonexercising controls and/or controls practicing other types of exercise.

Setting: The study took place at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (Porto Alegre, Brazil).

Participants: Participants were aging individuals, >55 y, both with or without health conditions.

Interventions: Interventions should be supervised, taking form as group classes, in a dance setting environment. Dance styles were divided into 5 categories for the review: (1) cultural dances developed by groups of people to reflect the roots of a certain region, such as Greek dance; (2) ballroom dance (ie, dances with partners performed socially or competitively in a ballroom, such as foxtrot); (3) aerobic dance with no partner required, which mixes aerobic moves with dance moves; (4) dance therapies, whichare special dance programs including emotional and physical aspects; and (5) classical dances, which are dances with a unique tradition and technique, such as ballet or jazz dance.

Outcome measures: Studies needed to have evaluated functional and/or metabolic outcomes. Functional outcomes included (1) static and/or dynamic balance, (2) gait ability, (3) upper and/or lower muscle strength or power, (4) cardiorespiratory fitness, (5) flexibility, (6) risk of falls, and (7) quality of life. Metabolic outcomes included (1) lipid and glycemic profile; (2) systolic and diastolic blood pressure; (3) body composition; and (4) other specific cardiovascular risk factors or inflammatory or oxidative stress markers.

Results: The research team retrieved 1042 articles, with 88 full texts assessed for eligibility, and 50 articles included in the analysis. Of the analyzed studies, 22 were RCTs evaluating dancing vs controls, and 3 were RCTs evaluating dancing vs other exercise. Regarding the participants of the reviewed studies: (1) 31 evaluated healthy individuals, (2) 7 evaluated patients suffering from Parkinson's disease, (3) 4 evaluated postmenopausal women, (4) 2 evaluated obese women, (5) 2 evaluated patients with chronic heart failure, (6) 1 evaluated frail older adults, (7) 1 evaluated individuals with visual impairments, (8) 1 evaluated persons with metabolic syndrome, and (9) 1 evaluated individuals with severe pain in the lower extremities. Regarding the interventions, most interventions were 12 wk long, 3 ×/wk, for 60 min each session. The dance styles most used were ballroom and cultural dances. Regarding the outcomes, functional and metabolic benefits were described in most of the included studies. Balance was the functional outcome most often assessed.

Conclusions: Any dance style can induce positive functional adaptations in older adults, especially related to balance. Metabolic improvements may also be a result of dancing; however, more RCTs are needed. Dancing may be a potential exercise intervention to promote health-related benefits for aging individuals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brazil
  • Dance Therapy*
  • Dancing / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gait / physiology
  • Healthy Aging*
  • Humans
  • Metabolism / physiology*
  • Postural Balance / physiology*
  • Quality of Life