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Seniors in the swing: Calgary researchers study benefit of dance for the elderly

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One thing Calgary researchers have learned from observing seniors dance is how much it's helped their mental and physical well-being.

Sarah Kenny, an assistant professor with the University of Calgary's kinesiology department, and her associate, MSc student Vanessa Paglione, have been sitting in on a seniors' dance class in northwest Calgary for more than three years.

Kenny says the research includes watching and talking to the dancers to understand their experience.

"They were commenting (on) how it's helped them be quick on their feet and (with) problem solving," she said.

One of the dancers, Pat Flanders, has found dancing has helped her memory.

She says the dances are constantly building new steps on top of the old ones "and you're just constantly adding things to your memory."

Flanders says she's gained more from this class than she expected.

"I came for mainly balance and memory. And the other thing you get here is socializing," she said.

"It’s wonderful."

Another dancer, Doug Hemstreet, says dancing activates his brain in the same ways playing chess with his grandson does.

"You're moving…You're not sitting, sitting around fading away," said Hemstreet, adding that being active helps him use his brain.

"That's the benefit."

Dance instructor Krista White says there are plenty of benefits that come with dancing.

"Skills for balance, we work on coordination, we work on using opposite parts of the body and crossing the midline, which is really stimulating and challenging for the brain," she said.

Kenny says they want this research to help create classes all over the city that can offer "social wellness, psychological wellness, as well as the physical wellness."

"Social connection is really a very big part of (wellness) and being creative and using our imaginations when we're moving," she said.

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