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Zumba Gold Program Attracts Elders

By Lindsey Getz

Older adults find the Zumba Gold fitness programto be fun and beneficial in several ways.

You’re already familiar with the importance of your patients’ need to exercise, even as they grow older. The National Institute on Aging reports that even moderate exercise and physical activity can improve the health of individuals who are frail or who may have diseases that accompany aging.

But the idea of hitting the gym is not at the top of most elders’ list of things to do. That is, until the Zumba Gold® fitness program became available at more local gyms and YMCAs. Today many older adults are dancing their way to better health. Here’s what you should know about the program.

The Zumba Gold fitness program is a specialty course designed to meet the anatomical, physiological, and psychological needs of the aging population. Like the traditional Latin-inspired Zumba workout, the Zumba Gold workout incorporates many of the dance/fitness routines set to Latin and international rhythms but is performed at a lower intensity. 

The benefits of the Zumba Gold program are multifaceted, says Joy Prouty, a Zumba fitness training manager, Zumba education specialist, and codeveloper of the Zumba Gold program. “It’s a lot of cardio and you definitely get the benefit of strengthening the cardiovascular system,” she says. “But because it’s also a weight-bearing exercise, that helps with the bones. Also, because we keep people moving, it helps preserve, restore, or improve range of motion. That, in turn, can help with peoples’ posture. Good posture not only helps you look better but can help make everyday activities easier to do.”

Beyond the physiological component, Prouty says one of the great things about a Zumba workout is that it’s a lot of fun. In fact, Zumba’s motto is “Ditch the workout, join the party!”

Prouty says there’s a huge cognitive benefit for participating elders to connecting and socializing with their peers. “Especially as people age and situations with loved ones and friends may have changed, coming together to workout can be a positive benefit for them,” she says.

Walter Gaman, MD, of Executive Medicine of Texas, agrees and says the importance of the social aspect of working out is often forgotten. Doctors should remind their patients that working out may be a great way to make friends. “Most seniors don’t get a lot of socialization, so getting out and doing a fun workout has a definite social benefit,” Gaman adds. “Those are the types of things that help people live longer lives.”

Gaman says any workout that’s fun can help motivate a patient to keep up with the routine—and to keep coming back. “Dancing can be a lot of fun and a lot of times you don’t realize you’re exercising because you’re enjoying it so much,” he says. “I think there’s great appeal there.”

That’s certainly the whole idea behind this program, says Prouty. “I like to say it’s exercise in disguise,” she adds. “People are having a great time. It really is a party, and who doesn’t like to party?  No matter what the person’s age is, everyone likes to have a good time.”

Why Zumba?
One aspect that attracts older adults to a Zumba Gold workout as opposed to other exercise classes is the music. “It’s a generation that grew up dancing,” says Prouty. “Older adults love music, and they really respond to it. To be able to dance and move in a way that’s just fun and nonjudgmental, while also having some health benefit, is just a win-win situation.”

Prouty says she works with several physicians in her community and talks to them about the Zumba Gold program so they know what to expect when recommending it to patients. “I explain that with the Zumba Gold workout, we’ve added the element of being careful about transitions with the dance moves,” she says. “We are aware of the knees and the importance of being careful with pivot type of moves. There are deliberate choreography choices that help make the transitions smoother. The program has been thoughtfully designed with the aging adult in mind. It’s a class where they’re going to feel safe but also have fun, and physicians can feel comfortable recommending it to their patients.”

Prouty says she recommends that everyone taking a Zumba Gold class—or participating in any exercise for that matter—see their physicians first. Gaman says before patients become involved with a dance-inspired workout, they should first receive a thorough cardiovascular evaluation.

“I’d tell other physicians not to assume just because it’s dancing that it doesn’t require a lot of exertion,” he adds based on personal experience, having recently competed in a dance competition for charity. “Don’t blow off dancing as not being aerobic. It’s actually incredibly aerobic.”

When possible, Prouty says, it’s always best for the Zumba instructor to be informed about a patient’s condition. “We obviously respect the privacy issues in today’s medical world, but if the patient allows us to speak to their physician, that’s always helpful,” she says. “We like to ask physicians not whether the person can exercise, because everyone should be getting some exercise, but rather what do you want the patient not to do? Give us guidelines on whether there are any restrictions. If someone just had a hip replacement, for instance, we like to know that, so we can follow some guidelines such as not crossing the midline of the body. We can then teach that person some modifications to any dance moves they can’t do.”

The bottom line, Gaman says, is that dance-inspired fitness workouts like the Zumba Gold program can be a fun way for older adults to work out, but neither the participants nor their doctors should underestimate the fitness component.

“In general, any dancing is a tremendous aerobic activity, and I do think a lot of people underestimate what’s involved,” he says. “The traditional Zumba workout is tremendously aerobic and fast paced, and I’d definitely worry about a senior trying that type of program. But a scaled-back program that’s designed for seniors is something that may likely be very beneficial on many levels.”

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pa.