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Take heart

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

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February 16th, 2017
Jean and John Stewart, who live at Oak Crest, teach ballroom dancing classes at the Parkville, Md., Erickson Living community.

Jean and John Stewart, who live at Oak Crest, teach ballroom dancing classes at the Parkville, Md., Erickson Living 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 Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md., have another reason to celebrate. February is National Heart Month, and Oak Crest is built around a heart-healthy lifestyle. 

The sprawling 87-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 five 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. 

Waltzing to good health

Of all these opportunities to stay fit, Jean and John Stewart prefer to dance their way to good health.

“I have always loved to dance,” says Jean who, along with John, teaches ballroom dancing lessons at Oak Crest. “[In] any article you read these days, doctors seem to say that dancing is good for you. I know that over the years dancing has really contributed to our good health. We’ve had a few problems here and there, but overall we have been very lucky. I’ll be 80, and John is 84, and we can still do the quick-step and the samba.” 

Before moving to Oak Crest in 2013, Jean and John taught ballroom dancing lessons in Florida, where they belonged to a ballroom dancing club. Now they teach a weekly group of 35 to 40 of their Oak Crest neighbors how to foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha, tango, mambo, rhumba, and swing.

“Everybody has so much fun. It’s really a great social event,” says Jean. “We do a lesson first and then play dance music so that everyone can practice and enjoy themselves. The camaraderie and friendships that have developed between residents has been just great.”

Time to hit the dance floor

When it comes to the health benefits of dancing, it appears science is on Jean and John’s side. A study from Western Sydney University’s School of Science and Health in Australia found people over 40 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 40 and older from 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,” she said in an ABC News interview.

“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 do reach the high intensity of physical activity. And the higher the intensity, the better the benefits.”

In line to relax

Geri Onorato teaches line dancing once a week at Oak Crest and says her goal is to keep the class moving and have fun.

“Most people start coming to the classes for exercise, but it’s also a lot of fun,” says Geri.  “There are zillions of line dances out there. I get bored with the same routines, so I take a line dancing class at the Parkville Senior Center for ideas, and then I teach the dances I like and that are compatible with our class. Line dancing takes a lot of intricate foot movements and turning and twisting. If you are new, the first couple of classes will be tricky, but if you keep coming and stick with it, you will pick it up in no time.”

Whether it’s the Electric Slide, Cupid Shuffle, or Cab Driver, line dancing can help you burn calories, increase flexibility, reduce stress, and boost your memory. 

“Dancing releases tension and relaxes you,” says Geri. “And the great thing about line dancing is you don’t need a partner.”

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