Dancing good for the heart and good for the brain, as exercise, socialising help reduce dementia risk

Dancing is more than a hobby for retiree Lou Tiziani; it’s helping him stay young. 

Twice a week he helps organise New Vogue dance events in the Wollongong area and runs his own website listing all the dances in the region from the Highlands to the South Coast. 

New Vogue sequence dancing originated in colonial Australia in the 1930s in city town halls and rural sheds.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

He has participated in sequence dancing — rock-and-roll, ballroom and New Vogue among the routines — for more than a decade and every month he performs 68 different dances.

“To try and remember them all … this helps the brain, and it certainly keeps your fitness level up by doing it,” he said. 

During lockdowns Mr Tiziani and his partner Lyn Child noticed their fitness levels decreased.

“It took a while to realise, ‘Hang on, we are getting older and we’re not doing anything’, and we need to do something and that’s the main reason we do this dancing activity; it’s to keep us a little bit fitter than what we would normally be,” he said.

Associate professor Michael Woodward, honorary medical adviser to Dementia Australia, thinks they are on to something.

“We now recognise one of the biggest fears of older people is developing dementia or Alzheimer’s [disease], so it’s understandable that people would want to do what they can to reduce their risk,” he said.

Dancers in a hall
People meet regularly at Marshall Mount Hall to participate in New Vogue sequence dancing. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Strike a pose

A woman in a colourful top is smiling.  She is standing in front of a country hall
Dance enthusiast Cris Terry highly recommends New Vogue.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Cris Terry started dancing when she was five years old, after her great-grandmother made her a skirt, and has barely stopped to catch her breath since.

“She made a twirly skirt for me, so I used to always be going around in circles to make my skirt twirl,” Ms Terry said.

“I did a little bit of rock-and-roll and ballroom, but the last 20 years I started doing New Vogue, bush dancing and Scottish country, Irish as well as rock-and-roll,” she said.

Ms Terry said she loved that dancing helped her stay fit and alert.

“I couldn’t tell you how many dances I know but your brain is working the whole time so it’s good for that and it’s good for you socially,” she said. 

“They say it’s the best thing to ward off Alzheimer’s, so it’s got my tick.”

Cris and a friend are dancing
Ms Terry invites male friends to dance with her but says there is no shortage of dance partners when she goes alone.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Prevention is better than cure

Over the past decade, individuals have become acutely aware of the large number of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and the things we can do to prevent it. 

“We’ve always known what’s good for our heart and there’s much overlap between what’s good for the heart is good for our brain,” Dr Woodward said.

The rhythm of life

Robyn Rumble has been dancing at the Shoalhaven Heads Bowling Club for 28 years and after her husband’s stroke the couple became determined to exercise every day.

Because of the benefits, doctors encouraged them to go dancing.

“We need to keep moving, exercising; it helps the brain, it helps the balance, it also helps with memory to remember the dances,” Ms Rumble said.

“The different styles of tunes, the quicksteps, the foxtrots; they all keep you moving to a certain rhythm and that helps.”

A woman wearing black stands next to a man in a blue collared shirt inside a country hall.
Robyn Rumble and her husband dance several times a week, both in Shoalhaven Heads and in Marshall Mount Hall.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

A lot of the dancers at the Tuesday night group in Shoalhaven Heads are close to retirement age and there are many over 80 years old. 

“There are no young ones coming along at the moment to take this sort of dancing up,” Ms Rumble said. 

Dancers stand alongside each other inside a country hall.
Marshall Mount Hall is for dancing only as the floor is considered to be of superior quality.(ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Regardless of age, she says there is a lot of fun to be had attending balls across the countryside.

Associate Professor Michael Woodward wears a collared shirt and suit jacket. He is looking outside
Michael Woodward has no doubts about the benefits of dancing.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

“My husband and I we’ve been down to Merimbula a couple of weeks ago to a ball there, Wagga a couple of weeks before that, and this coming weekend we are going out to Caloundra for a 12-hour dance weekend,” Ms Rumble said.

Dementia Australia suggests people take should up dancing earlier in life rather than wait until retirement.

“Dementia risk reduction essentially begins in your 30s and 40s, so don’t wait for your 70s; join sequence dancing, line dancing or anything, as early as possible,” Dr Woodward said.

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