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Take heart

Charlestown residents use dance as a fun way to stay in shape

Created date

February 16th, 2017
Jack Jackson, who lives at Charlestown, teaches ballroom dancing at the Catonsville community.

Jack Jackson, who lives at Charlestown, teaches ballroom dancing at the Catonsville community.

This month, more than half of Americans will celebrate Valentine’s Day by buying more than 58 million pounds of chocolate, exchanging 180 million greeting cards, and shelling out an average of $146.84 on their sweetheart. 

But people who live at Charlestown, an Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., have another reason to celebrate. February is National Heart Month, and Charlestown is built around a heart-healthy lifestyle. 

Dancing to good health

The sprawling 110-acre campus features climate-controlled bridges that connect every building, providing access to dozens of amenities and conveniences even on the coldest of February days. 

An on-site fitness center with weight training and cardio equipment, fitness classes, an indoor swimming pool, as well as heart-healthy menu options in each of the six on-site restaurants are all just a short indoor walk away. 

When the weather warms up, outdoor spaces like walking trails, bocce ball courts, a softball field, and a putting green also provide opportunities for exercise. 

Among all those choices, Norma Wolff prefers to dance her way to good health.

“I love to move to music!” says Norma, who teaches line dancing classes at Charlestown. “I started taking tap and jazz classes at a senior center when we lived in Rhode Island. When we moved to Charlestown, I decided to start teaching a line dancing class. The first class was so full we could barely move, so I split the group into two separate classes.”

Norma says dancing has helped her stay in shape both mentally and physically.

“You have to think about the steps and remember them and then do them,” says Norma. “It’s all around good for you.” 

Norma enjoys dancing and performing so much that she organized a musical variety show along with some of the students in her classes. 

“We do a combination of dance, short skits, and singing, similar to a Vaudeville-type show,” says Norma. “It’s a lot of work, but we’ve had a great time together.”  

Time to hit the dance floor

When it comes to the health benefits of dancing, it appears science is on Norma’s side. A study from Western Sydney University’s School of Science and Health in Australia found people over forty who dance have a 49% reduction in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Researchers believe the mixture of interval training with social interaction could be the key. 

Associate professor Dafna Merom and colleagues at the University of Sydney analyzed data from more than 48,000 people forty and older who live in Great Britain. Those who danced over a ten-year period were less likely to die of heart disease than those who rarely or never danced.

“We saw that dancing not only had the greatest protection against cardiovascular disease, if comparing to walkers, for example, they benefited from an additional 21% reduction as compared to walking,” Merom said in an ABC News interview.

“Dance mimics the high-intensity training interval, but it’s like an exercise in disguise,” said Merom. “You reach some high intensity from folk dancing and some kind[s] of quick ballroom dancing. You have to keep with the beat, and so, without noticing, you really reach the high intensity of physical activity. And the higher the intensity, the better the benefits.”

Jack Jackson has been teaching ballroom dancing at Charlestown for the last eight years. 

“Whenever I hear dance music, it makes me feel like I want to get up and move,” says Jack, who taught dance on nights and weekends throughout his career as an elementary school teacher. “I’ve taught the foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, and swing, and I still like to do tango and samba.”

Charlestown neighbors Anne Kredell and Dan Cieslowski have been taking lessons with Jack for the last four years. 

“Before this, I never danced in my entire life,” says Anne. “We saw a flyer posted in the community, and it sounded like fun. Jack adds new steps each week. We like it a lot. It’s fun. We really have a good time together.”

Approaching 92, Jack says dancing has helped keep him in good health over the years. 

“It’s a great way to exercise. Once you get into it, it’s hard to pull yourself away it’s so much fun,” says Jack. “Healthwise I’m in darn good condition compared to other people my age. I contribute that to a lifetime of dancing.”