Our Blog

Elizabeth Moakler, a licensed Zumba Gold instructor demonstrating exercise on a laptop scren

Dementia & Dancing: Brain Benefits of Zumba Gold

By: Camila Cal, SeniorLivingGuide.com

It’s common to hear people say “I want to dance my worries away” or “I want to leave it all on the dance floor” as ways of expressing the joy that dancing can make us feel. But what many don’t know is that there is truth to these sayings. You can dance some of your troubles away!

SeniorLivingGuide.com Podcast was joined by Elizabeth Moakler, a licensed Zumba Gold instructor on the podcast, Zumba Gold: Boosting Health and Happiness for Seniors Through Dance. Her goal is to educate seniors that dance exercise is not only good for physical health, but can also lift spirits, form social connections, and even fend off dementia.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Elizabeth had been teaching Zumba in-person for 17 years, with many of her students being seniors and older adults. As lockdowns occurred, she had to think on her feet (quite literally!) and figure out how to continue to help seniors stay active. The answer was Zoom! She began hosting virtual classes via Zoom that quickly grew from 12 students in attendance to over 100 students per class. She had people join her from SeniorLivingGuide.com Podcast Bannerthe East to West coast of the U.S., and even from countries all over the world such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

While it was a difficult time, she was able to reach students she wouldn’t normally be able to contact. And there was an added benefit of socialization that had been stripped away during the pandemic. Through virtual Zumba Gold, seniors didn’t have to leave their house or put their health at risk to see other people. Even after lockdown was over and it was safe to socialize in-person, her students wanted to continue meeting virtually! Part of the reason is the community built through every class: Elizabeth celebrates birthdays, anniversaries, births of grandchildren, and even choreographs classes based on song requests. The students build a real bond with one another.

Elizabeth specifically teaches Zumba Gold, a low impact version of Zumba that is tailored for people like seniors. Zumba Gold does not feature any kind of jumping, and is designed to protect joints, ankles, knees, and hips. The idea is that students can partake in healthy exercise while simultaneously protecting their body.

She explained that students can sit in a chair and participate in this class. The beauty of Zumba Gold is that it can be adjusted to specific needs and students can take the class to the level they feel most comfortable in. If they want to add “flavor” (hip shaking, extra movement, etc.), they are welcome to, but it’s not required. On her dance floor, age really is just a number; her oldest student is 87 years old! Seniors can also dance wherever they want, whether it’s the kitchen, bathroom, living room, or anywhere they have enough space.

One common misconception is that Zumba only uses Latin-based music– but that’s not true! Instructors like Moakler target audience preference and play music their students know: disco, rock and roll, oldies, and more.

With these social benefits and accessibility, how could Zumba Gold get any better?

Well, the truth is that Zumba Gold provides so many health benefits, especially for seniors. Exercise is one of the pillars of brain health (the others are sleep management, healthy diet, brain engagement, and socialization). High stress can endanger brain health and dancing releases “feel good” hormones and endorphins (like serotonin) which decreases stress levels. Anytime you engage in cardio, oxygenated blood pumps to the brain and that blood flow and oxygen can repair damage, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep.

Additionally, Zumba challenges the brain to learn choreography, which is important for learning and building neural pathways. These are all important for increasing cognitive function in people who are struggling with dementia. Moakler offered a great metaphor: “It’s like doing Sudoku with your feet!”

Zumba Gold classes also improve balance and that can help seniors that may be prone to falls or other injuries. And dancing is good for health in general, too, because practicing cardio regularly can help with high blood pressure, high sugar, high cholesterol, and other ailments. Many of Moakler’s students attest that Zumba Gold has given them a new lease on life!

Classes are generally 50-55 minutes long. They are held 3-4 times per week, beginning at 11 a.m. Moakler said that students can participate for however long they see fit. She recommended taking as many classes as possible, but anything is better than nothing!

For Elizabeth, the best part about Zumba Gold is the joy and happiness that it brings to seniors and how much their health improves because of it. “You can’t be unhappy when listening to “Dancing Queen!”’ she said. Her mantra is that she doesn’t care what you’re doing in class as long as you’re moving your body, getting sweaty, wearing a smile on your face, and most importantly, having a good time!

 To join in on the Zumba fun, email Elizabeth Moakler (zumba@careconnectusa.org) with a message stating that you would like to try Zumba Gold at home.

 For more senior and caregiver resource podcasts, visit SeniorLivingGuide.com Podcast or they can be found, listened and downloaded most anywhere you enjoy music or podcasts such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podchaser, and more!

Tags: ,