0305-News-EPI-Latin dance_Blog

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For Rosa Rodriguez, taking care of her ailing father was taking a toll. He required hands-on care, and she rarely left the house. Rodriguez didn’t exercise and spent her free time watching television. Her health was suffering: She was depressed and her blood pressure was through the roof.

Her daughter urged her to sign up for a research study looking at the health effects of dancing among Latinos over age 55 who were not physically active. Once Rodriguez learned how to dance bachata, merengue, salsa and cha cha cha, the 57-year-old grandmother from Chicago was hooked – and her blood pressure was back within the normal range.

Rodriguez was one of 54 participants in the study, led by David X. Marquez, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The findings were presented Friday at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions.

Half of the participants took Latin dance lessons twice a week and met with the researchers to talk about ways to improve their health. The other half attended health education classes that covered topics such as stress management and nutrition.

The findings show the dancers moved faster and were more physically active than their peers taking health education classes. For example, some now walked instead of taking the bus.

Marquez said the results are important because they show dancing “can get more older Latinos physically active.”


All participants were Spanish-speakers, a requirement to be part of the study. Most were immigrant women from Mexico who had lived in the United States for about three decades. Overall, the participants had about seven years of basic education and nearly all had an annual income of less than $25,000. The researchers continue to test the dance program in other patient groups.

Low-income older Latinos face a variety of barriers that make it difficult to be physically active, Marquez said. Chronic health conditions may limit them. Many don’t have time to exercise because they take care of grandchildren. Some may live in high-crime areas and don’t feel comfortable walking around their neighborhood. Others simply don’t know what types of exercise to do.

More than half of Latino adults do not get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise – for example, brisk walking, water aerobics or dancing – each week, according to 2011 data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Marquez chose Latin dance styles for the study because they would be culturally relevant to the participants. He and a local salsa instructor designed a four-month dance course that incorporated eight hours each of merengue, cha cha cha, bachata and salsa.

In his cardiology practice in Dallas, Carlos E. Velasco, M.D., sees first-hand how income and education affect his patients’ motivation to exercise. He said his patients are of varied races and ethnicities, and he finds it harder to motivate low-income patients to exercise.

More than race or ethnicity, a person’s tolerance to exercise, ability to exercise or desire to exercise is tied to their socioeconomic status and level of education, said Velasco, a cardiologist at Baylor Jack and Jane Hamilton Heart Hospital.

Education, he added, plays an even more important role than income level in predicting a person’s exercise habits because someone who doesn’t have significant economic resources “but has education generally knows that exercise is good and is more willing to do it.”

Eloy Guerrero, a 73-year-old retired janitor who participated in the study, credits Marquez’s program with helping him lose 50 pounds.

Guerrero said the experience rekindled his love of dancing, and he now takes Mexican ballet folklórico and Aztec dance. He is also spreading the gospel of the benefits of dancing among his more sedentary peers.

“I want to motivate seniors,” Guerrero said.

Video courtesy of University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) News