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Health January 2013

“60 & Beyond” Quintessential Finishing School

Aqua Zumba Anyone?

By Peggy Henderson

Trust me. Dancing with a giddy group of ladies of all sizes and shapes takes away all inhibitions and no matter how you feel easing into the cool water, you will step out of the water energized for the rest of the day.

If anyone had told me a year ago that I would be making waves to the Latino steps of the salsa, tango, flamingo, yes, belly dancing and, God forbid, in a swim suit at the YMCA, I’d have firmly replied: in your dreams.

It’s not that I don’t adore exercise but wearing an old lady swim suit and performing foreign dance steps. At the very thought, my over-inflated ego screamed: “Play it safe. Why bother to take a chance and make a fool of yourself? Again.”

It’s true, as the years spin by faster than Michael Phelps, we seniors tend to shy away from the unknown. It’s less stressful to rest in the minuscule details of our daily routine. I admit I do value my comfort zones.

Nevertheless, I bought my much advertised Miracle Swim Suit that promised a smoother, trimmer appearance. I rented my locker with a combination lock that immediately tracked me back to the angst of high school algebra combinations. Oh how our wily egos can shipwreck our opportunities for just plain ole fun.

Trust me. Dancing with a giddy group of ladies of all sizes and shapes takes away all inhibitions and no matter how you feel easing into the cool water, you will step out of the water energized for the rest of the day.

The Zumba is a Colombian dance fitness program created by dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez. Perez was forced to improvise one day in 1986, when he forgot his aerobics music for an exercise class. Using salsa and meringue rhythms, he combined the two, eventually produced a demo reel — and the rest is history. Presently there are 12 million people taking Zumba classes in over 110,000 locations across more than 126 countries.

Aqua Zumba classes are an hour long and are taught by qualified, young, hard-body instructors. Once the music fills the humid arena, ready or not, the party begins. The instructor dances front and center on the pool deck and conducts the group, starting with a brisk warm-up and then into raunchy, racy paces, and finally a much needed cool down.

What I like about the swimming pool venue is I can push myself as much or little as I’m willing to challenge the water’s weighty resistance. Like other moderate, low-impact physical activities, the benefits are similar but dancing isn’t boring. It’s no secret that music unlocks the parts of the brain that contains our pleasure hormones. The good news is active participation for a shared purpose can add years to one’s life. For example, it can be bowling, shuffleboard, or maybe miniature golf. Any competitive game that excludes sitting down. The bonus — besides increased longevity — is a promise of improved emotional health and sharper cognitive skills.

Surely even a plump, pessimistic goose or gander would find it hard to resist a few more years of paddling around a lake. The known risks of social isolation — meaning little interaction during a week with perhaps only a family member, church service or a medical appointment — is like Fido standing at the door waiting for his master to come home. This sedentary lifestyle for whatever reason creates an opportunity for debilitating depression. In addition, it’s a fact that due to such limited exercise, issues of cardiovascular complications, osteoporosis and increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis rate high on the at-risk chart. Even more scary, medical experts report our immune system and lack of brain alertness weakens due to little stimulation.

What a bummer. More reason to get out of the house and put on our exercise/dancing shoes. You don’t have to go alone. Take a friend. Bribe them with a promise to take them to lunch.

Much has been written about living the last chapters of one’s life with grace, wit and gratitude to the point of ad nauseam. I’m still and will probably continue to fight my competitive ego to the last day of what I call my finishing school for seniors — even if no one else can see that I’m not dancing the correct dance movements, no matter that no one gives a cha cha cha that I’m moving right when I should be facing left. No matter.

Tomorrow’s another day. For dancing.


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