YMCA branches hope older adults will bust a move for health

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Local - PAUL FORSYTH

They may not be up to do­ing break­danc­ing or Michael Jack­son’s moon­walk, but the YMCA Ni­a­gara is hop­ing a lot of older adults and se­niors in the re­gion will start danc­ing them­selves to bet­ter fit­ness and clearer minds.

The lo­cal YMCA or­ga­ni­za­tion and fel­low YMCAs in Oakville and Hamil­tonBurling­ton-Brad­ford have part­nered with the GERAS Cen­tre for Ag­ing Re­search at Hamil­ton Health Sciences to bring a new 12-week dance program — de­signed for older adults aged 60 or more who may have early mo­bil­ity or cog­ni­tive im­pair­ments, such as dif­fi­culty climb­ing stairs or walk­ing around the block, or de­clin­ing mem­ory.

Called GERAS Dance, the program con­sists of a warmup ses­sion, 30 min­utes of seated and stand­ing ball­room-type danc­ing, a cool-down and time for so­cial­iza­tion. The program of one-hour ses­sions takes place twice a week and is free with a YMCA membership or for a $90 fee for non-Y mem­bers, although the YMCA does have fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance avail­able, said Hamil­ton-Burling­ton-Brad­ford YMCA se­nior re­gional man­ager Genevieve Hla­dysh.

It will be of­fered at each of the YMCA’s Ni­a­gara lo­ca­tions in St. Catharines, Ni­a­gara Falls, Wel­land, Port Col­borne, Grimsby and Fort Erie, start­ing on a stag­gered ba­sis in late Fe­bru­ary and into March.

The dance program was spear­headed by a pilot project at one of the Hamil­ton Y branches by sci­en­tists at GERAS, in­clud­ing lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor Dr. Alexan­dra Pa­paioan­nou and co-in­ves­ti­ga­tor Court­ney Kennedy.

The launch of the program in the three YMCA or­ga­ni­za­tions — in­clud­ing Ni­a­gara’s — is a sub­se­quent im­ple­men­ta­tion study ex­am­in­ing the fea­si­bil­ity of scal­ing up the mind-body program for high-risk se­niors across mul­ti­ple sites, the two re­searchers said in a let­ter.

Kennedy, as­so­ciate sci­en­tific di­rec­tor of the GERAS Cen­tre, said the re­search done so far sug­gests peo­ple with those early cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal de­clines can re­ally ben­e­fit from the dance.

“We think we can re­ally slow the on­set [and] maybe par­tially re­verse it,” she said. “It’s a great program.

“The goal is to keep older adults healthy and ac­tive as long as pos­si­ble.”

Dance is fun, but be­yond that fun are very real ben­e­fits that can in­clude: im­proved mus­cle strength and bal­ance, lower ex­trem­ity strength, im­proved aer­o­bic ca­pa­bil­ity and im­prov­ing cog­ni­tive func­tion as the mind learns new motor move­ments, said Kennedy.

While the program is open to peo­ple aged 60 and over, one man who was push­ing age 90 even took part in the pilot study, said Kennedy.

“He loved it,” she said. “It was awe­some.”

In ad­di­tion to the phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive ben­e­fits, the program also pro­motes so­cial­iza­tion among older peo­ple who may be at risk of be­com­ing iso­lated, said Kennedy; those so­cial con­nec­tions also lasted out­side of class time, she said.

“Ul­ti­mately, we are tar­get­ing cul­ture change ... the idea that se­niors of all ages and abil­i­ties need op­por­tu­ni­ties to ex­er­cise both the mind and the body,” said Kennedy.

Hla­dysh said that the dance program is an ex­ten­sion of a com­mu­nity health-based part­ner­ship be­tween the YMCA, Hamil­ton Health Sciences and McMaster Uni­ver­sity known as Live Well, dat­ing back to 2007.

While the program is still be­ing as­sessed, Hla­dysh said the re­ac­tion of par­tic­i­pants at the pilot program in Hamil­ton points to some­thing mak­ing a real im­pact.

“They had a phe­nom­e­nal time,” she said. “We found peo­ple came for the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits, but also those so­cial con­nec­tions, just be­ing out there with peo­ple. So­cial iso­la­tion is a big thing we’re try­ing to over­come.”

Saman­tha Cameron, Ni­a­gara lead on the program, said YMCA staff hope the program will at­tract peo­ple who might not fit into a reg­u­lar big box gym. “This is an op­por­tu­nity to get in­volved in a very sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment where mu­sic can re­ally spark the neu­rons in the brain,” she said.

The full program spans 14 weeks — with par­tic­i­pants un­der­go­ing a short screen for cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal func­tion in the first week, and a fi­nal as­sess­ment in the last week.

The YMCA of Ni­a­gara said that no back­ground in dance is nec­es­sary to take part, but par­tic­i­pants should be able to walk at least 10 me­tres and get out of a chair unas­sisted.

Reg­is­tra­tion is re­quired to par­tic­i­pate. The program’s start date and lo­ca­tions at YMCA branches are:

• Port Col­borne, (905) 835-9622, Feb. 20;

• Grimsby, (905) 309-9622, Feb. 25;

• St. Catharines, (905) 934-9622, March 1;

• Ni­a­gara Falls, (905) 358-9622, March 11;

• Fort Erie, (905) 871-9622, March 19;

• Wel­land, (905) 735-9622, March 25.


Louise Di Lib­erto, left, and Linda Wil­son were part of the GERAS Dance pilot project at the Les Chater Fam­ily YMCA in Hamil­ton in 2018. The program is com­ing to the YMCA of Ni­a­gara branches.


A group of se­niors en­joy some danc­ing as part of the GERAS Dance pilot project.

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