Four-month instructional dance program can improve health of Latino seniors

Published on February 11, 2013 at 4:25 AM · No Comments

Vigorous activity can improve the physical and mental health of older adults, but for many, particularly Latinos, exercise is not a regular part of their lives, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher.

David Marquez has received a four-year, $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to see if a four-month instructional dance program for Latino seniors can improve their level of physical activity -- and with it, their balance and mobility and cognitive function.

Latinos ages 65 to 74 are much less likely than other seniors to participate in physical leisure-time activities. Senior Latinos are also twice as likely to report difficulty walking as are non-Latino whites. They develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease an average of seven years earlier. These health disparities are likely due in part to Latinos' lower physical activity, says Marquez, UIC associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition.

"Older Latinos are also at high risk of developing disabilities, and one of our long-term goals is to prevent disability among this disadvantaged group," Marquez said.

Dance is widely accepted among Latinos, but seniors have few opportunities for dancing and may not have danced at all since they were children, Marquez said. Night club dancing is often too fast-paced and too late at night for older adults. In a pilot study of his dance program, Marquez found that there was a lot of interest in dancing among this population.

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