warm up

Dance your way to better health

Who said exercise had to be at the gym? Here are some fun ways to get active without even noticing it.

The joy of dancing is that it’s good exercise, but so much fun that you won’t even notice you’re getting fit… Much better than trying to jog around the block! Dancing is, at heart, both art and sport. If you’ve been tempted to pull some moves like you’ve seen on TV’s Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance, but haven’t managed to make the move from the couch to the dance floor, this is the year to do it!

Why dancing is good for you

What many people don’t realise is that dancing has a number of health benefits. Dance is a full mind and body workout that burns calories and lowers your heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol. As with all kinds of exercise, dancing makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which means the insulin works better in your system. Because dancing is a weight-bearing activity, where the body works against gravity, it can also help strengthen bones, improve balance, posture and coordination. Dancing offers the opportunity to socialise and make friends, and moving your feet to a good tune can be a real pick-me-up. Apart from reducing stress, the biggest benefit of dancing is that it is fun (lots of fun!)

How to get involved

Whether you like to jive, tap, or tango, shake your belly or let yourself go to the beat, there’s a style of dancing that’s right for you. Different types of dance include ballroom, ballet, nia, afro-fusion, hip-hop and free dance, among others. The first step is to have a plan. Ask yourself what style of dance you think you might enjoy – do you like something more formal, or free? Then, consider how much time you can spare in your week, how fit you are and if you have any pre-existing injuries.

Once you know what you want, it’s time to find it! Check community noticeboards and local gyms to find out when and where classes or events are being held, and invite a friend to go with you if you feel too shy to go to the first class on your own. Convinced you have two left feet? Take lessons. Most dance studios hold beginners’ courses and welcome people with disabilities. Learning a new skill can be a real confidence booster and if you start now, you’ll definitely have new skills to show off at your end-of-year Christmas party!

What to wear

Wear comfortable clothing that gives you freedom of movement and shoes that fit the dance form. Some classes, like ballet, tap or jazz, might need special footwear depending on your level. Avoid wearing jewellery, as earrings, rings and necklaces can scratch you or get caught in clothing. Most importantly? Wear a smile.

How to warm up

Remember that because dancing isn’t the same movements that you do in daily life, you need to warm the body up and treat the dance hour like an exercise session, with a warm-up, movement preparation, dance, and cool down. Once you’ve done your warm-up and you understand the main demands of the type of dance you’re doing, you can let your body go and enjoy.

Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist

Here’s how to warm up for each of these dance styles:

Ballroom: A large focus of ballroom is technique and posture, so you need to ensure that in your warm-up you help lengthen your spine. The goal is to engage your neck, shoulder blades and core muscles, so that you reduce strain and tension from this form of dancing.

Nia: This dance is about moving with balance, without too much effort. It is a combination of yoga, modern dance, jazz and tai chi. A whole body warm-up with deep breathing would be best here.

Ballet: Although rhythmic and seemingly calm, ballet is one of the most demanding kinds of dance. Muscle endurance, power and strength, as well as flexibility of joints, are all required. Before starting ballet classes, it’s a good idea to try a few one-on-one classes or test out the poses so you know how far you can move.

Hip-Hop: This is an extremely physical but hugely enjoyable dance form. Hip-hop uses movements that require strength and balance to control your body weight. Body weight exercises that prepare the body for this challenge, like dips, push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and squats, would be great to include in your warm-up. It’s also a good idea to strengthen and protect the spine because it’s such a high impact form of dance.

Free dance: Spontaneous and with no choreography, free dance has no rules and boundaries. So it’s important to combine the tips of all the types of dance above and ensure that you follow the structure from the warm-up to the cool down.

Ask the expert: Fiona Prins, Diabetes Educator

“Being active helps control blood sugar levels, so when you have diabetes it’s really important to exercise. As a rule, aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Regular physical activity will help keep your weight down, reduce blood pressure, raise good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL) in the bloodstream. Other benefits of exercise include being able to sleep better and better health in general.”

The daily sweat

Getting active every day can feel like a bit too much to ask for… Which is why Cindy Tilney’s asked the experts to give us easy ways to keep fit – no matter how old you are!

We all know exercise is good for us, but exercising to the max – especially in later life – can be too much of a good thing. It’s essential not to stress the body by exercising too hard, says Professor Wayne Derman, the Director of the U-Turn Chronic Disease Lifestyle Rehabilitation Programme based at the UCT Sports Science Institute of South Africa. “When planning an exercise routine, it’s important to consider any medical condition you might have, as well as any medication you’re taking and how it may affect you while exercising,” says Prof. Derman.

Older age also comes with a bigger chance of aches and pains because of problems like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis – if these names ring a bell, it’s a good idea to be more careful about the kind of exercise you choose, and to consult a medical professional (a biokineticist, physiotherapist or sports physician) when planning an exercise routine. Be sure to check if any medications you are on will interfere with this routine, reminds Prof. Derman.

Be informed

“It’s essential to go for a health check and orthopaedic assessment before starting any exercise programme,” says biokineticist, Sarah Hall.

Get checked for:

  • Cardiac weakness
  • Any existing injuries
  • High blood pressure
  • Ischaemia (restriction in blood supply)
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

Also be aware that falls are more likely if your balance isn’t what it used to be.

Warning signs:

The right kind of exercise has benefits for every chronic condition, says Prof. Derman.  But watch out for:

  • Feeling breathless to the point that you can’t talk when exercising
  • Any pain.

“The saying ‘no pain no gain’ is not true,” he says. “Your body should be in a state of relative comfort while exercising.”

So what should you do?

It’s important to include all of these steps in an optimal exercise programme, as they all have different functions, say Derman and Hall. These include:

  1. The warm up: This involves stretching and preparing your body for exercise.
  2. Flexibility training/stretching: This focuses on increasing the range of motion of the joints and stretching the body to release tension in the major muscle groups – calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, back, chest and arms.
  3. The aerobic phase: Involves movement of the large muscle groups to increase the heart rate. It can be walking, jogging, cycling, aqua aerobics or rowing, for example.
  4. Muscle strength resistance training: Using elastic bands or circuit training to make muscles stronger. This is particularly important for people with diabetes, as it can help the muscles involved in the absorption of insulin to become more sensitive, which helps blood sugar control.
  5. Stability training: Exercises like plank position that help balance and core stability.
  6. The cool down: This involves stretching and relaxation to allow the heart rate to go back to normal and the body to return to a resting state.

Remember: The goal is to exercise 20 to 30 minutes on most days of the week.

3 Top tips for people with diabetes:

  1. Don’t begin exercising if your blood sugar is either too high or too low (over 16 or below 4.8).
  2. If you are using insulin, always take something sweet with you when you exercise, in case of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar).
  3. Avoid injecting into large muscle groups just before exercising.

What kind of exercise is best for older people with diabetes?

We asked biokineticist Sarah Hall to give us a sample exercise routine. Here’s what she said:

Warm up: 5-10 minute brisk walk

Stretch: Standing calf and quad stretch, chest, shoulder and bicep stretch, lying down hamstring stretch and cat stretch for the back

Aerobic: Step for 2 minutes

Muscle strength: Like bicep curls, wall push-ups and abdominal crunches (sit-ups)

Aerobic: Walk or jog on the spot for 2 minutes

Stability: Plank position

Cool down: Repeat stretches