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Zumba Craze Attracts Older Adults
By Lindsey Getz

Older adults are dancing their way to better health.

Chances are you’ve heard about Zumba—the new fitness dance program that has become increasingly popular across the globe. Currently 6 million people take Zumba classes each week in one of 50,000 locations in 75 countries. But what you may not know is that Zumba isn’t just for the young and fit. It’s a great way for older adults to get in shape too.

In fact, the creators of Zumba recently introduced Zumba Gold, a new version of the Latin-inspired workout, tailored to the needs of elders. Just like Zumba, it incorporates dance/fitness routines to Latin and international rhythms but is performed at a lower intensity. Trained Zumba fitness instructors at more than 2,000 locations nationwide, including fitness clubs, community centers, YMCAs, rehabilitation centers, and retirement communities, offer the program.

“Zumba Gold is specifically targeted to the baby boomer generation and beyond,” explains Diane Felkenes, a 51-year-old Zumba instructor who lost about 135 pounds doing the program. She also teaches Zumba Gold at a cardiac rehabilitation center. “Zumba Gold was born out of the fact that there were a lot of people who wanted to do Zumba but couldn’t keep up with the fast-moving pace or handle the impact of the regular version. I, myself, find Zumba Gold excellent, as I have some physical limitations as a result of very bad knees. With this version, it’s a little gentler on the body, but you still get the full effect of the Latin flavor and the benefit of the moving and the dancing.”

Felkenes says participants in the Zumba programs generally experience a high level of success because it doesn’t feel like exercise. In the cardiac rehab center where she teaches classes, patients were originally not following through with their workout regimens. Most importantly, their doctors wanted them just to get up and move, but many patients were falling into the cycle of sitting on the couch and getting more out of shape. Felkenes says Zumba changed all that.

“People smile and laugh while they’re doing Zumba because it’s fun,” she says. “They start coming back week after week when they may have previously hated exercising. It’s not magic; it’s just something people like to do.”

In addition, older adults are often very enthusiastic about the music and learning the dance moves. “The baby boomers are the original party animals, having coined some of the most popular dances including the twist and the jitterbug, so it’s no surprise they are attracted to the program,” says Alberto Perlman, CEO of Zumba Fitness. “Zumba Gold also provides a much-needed social network and support system, especially for those who may have lost spouses and family members.”

But there’s more to Zumba than socializing and having fun. After all, though it may not feel like it, it is exercise. “From a medical point of view, it’s great,” says Rowan Paul, MD, staff physician at Kosmix RightHealth. “Studies now show that dance-based exercise is good for your heart, your flexibility, and your balance—especially in the elderly.”

Paul adds that a study in Japan, looking at women aged 72 to 87, found that those who participated in a dance exercise routine had improved balance, among other medical improvements. “It’s so important to prevent the elderly from falling because this can result in serious fractures,” continues Paul. “Mortality rates after a broken hip are high, so achieving better balance and preventing falls is a huge accomplishment.”

But the improvements in daily living often end up being the biggest reward of all, says Felkenes. “All of the sudden they’re [older adults] able to participate in activities of daily living again, like picking up a grandchild. I’ve also done classes at the rehab center where we start off staying seated the entire time and just moving the arms and legs. But often, by the third week, people are standing up and able to do the class on foot. For them, that alone is a huge accomplishment.”

Get Moving!
Whether your clients are fit enough to participate in regular Zumba or are taking the modified Zumba Gold class, it’s important that they’re being safe. The Zumba Gold program already takes into consideration some of the areas that may be of concern. For instance, says Paul, crossing legs when dancing can be dangerous for older adults because it may lead to a fall, so the dance moves in a modified version wouldn’t incorporate crossing the legs. “There might also be less hopping around or vigorous twisting and turning. It’s a little bit easier for older adults to take part in [these modified versions] safely, but there is still a fun atmosphere in the class,” he says.

Paul adds that those who are overweight may want to consider Aqua Zumba, which is a water-based workout integrating the Zumba formula and philosophy. “The nice thing about water workouts is that they’re much lower impact on the joints, which could be one of the barriers to exercise in the overweight or obese or in older adults in general,” he explains.

So how do you get your clients involved? Finding a Zumba Gold instructor or class is easy, says Felkenes. Just go to the website www.zumba.com and click on the “Find A Class” or “Find An Instructor” tabs to search your area. “We have instructors teaching in rehab centers, like myself, but also in assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, senior living communities, and more,” she says. “Many times the instructor will teach the class outside of a traditional space, so it can even be an option for a homebound individual. I’ve definitely noticed with the older adult population that the instructor has to sometimes go to the student, but that’s not usually a problem, as most Zumba instructors are willing to travel. Just look for the instructors that have a Zumba Gold icon by their name if you want an instructor who is certified in the Gold program.”

Those who aren’t able to find a local class that works for them can also use the DVDs, suggests Felkenes. “They are really fantastic, and there are a lot of senior centers who use the DVDs with their residents,” she says. “However, it’s always safer to have a certified instructor there, so I’d recommend a class first. You also get more of a social aspect and more motivation when you have a Zumba instructor teaching.”

Felkenes encourages caretakers to get out and experience a class for themselves prior to signing up their clients. “It’ll be easy to see why it’s so popular,” she says. “Even if you just hang out in the back of a class, you’ll be able to see what it’s all about. You can’t read about Zumba or hear somebody talk about it and understand what it is; it really must be experienced to be understood. So I invite everyone interested in Zumba to try it for themselves. Just be ready to hang on for the ride!”

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