Dance Can Be An Effective Exercise In The Fight Against Childhood Obesity

Ethel Gonzales

Childhood obesity is already a very serious and disturbing problem in the United States of America and many parts of Europe where obesity in general is increasing.The problem looks set to spread to other parts of the world as their standard of living improves.A diet with a high fat, sugar and salt intake and a sedentary lifestyle have all been major contributing factors in childhood obesity. As a result children are getting Type 2 diabetes and other illnesses usually associated with middle age. We have a generation of children who may well die before their parents.

It seems that the present generation is no longer keen on traditional competitive team games. Modern technology has led to children wanting to entertain themselves and to be personally in charge of the activity. Television and computer games loom large in their lives.

Overweight and obese children need to follow a strict weight loss regime and take increased exercise to help burn up the calories. The difficulty is that children who have a problem with their weight don’t enjoy the changes in their eating habits and are unenthusiastic about exercise. Cajoling, bribery, and threats do not work. The trick is to find an activity which burns calories but is not necessarily immediately seen as exercise. It also needs to be interesting and fun. This is where dance comes into its’ own as a calorie burning aerobic form of exercise.

Dance, partially due to television shows, is now the “in” way to exercise. Increasing numbers of people are using dance workouts as a way of exercising. You don’t need to be a great dancer to enjoy the health benefits of dancing. The main purpose is to enjoy moving to music and music plays a large role in young peoples lives these days

Dancing can be a really good Mind-Body-Spirit workout. Physical activity in general keeps body and brain healthy by increasing the amounts of brain chemicals that encourage nerve cells to grow. Dance helps people of all ages and physical limitations to get and stay in shape. There is chair and wheelchair dancing for people (including children) who have mobility difficulties.

The benefits of dancing are the same as other low-impact weight bearing activities such as walking fast, cycling or aerobics. This form of exercise also strengthens bones and muscles without stressing the joints. It tones the whole body and improves posture and balance. There is an increase in stamina and flexibility and a reduction in stress and tension which are often a problem for overweight children.

There are numerous forms of dance which may appeal to children and which could help in the battle against childhood obesity

Hip Hop and Capoeira are two dance forms which children may find appealing. Capoeira is a Brazilian hybrid dance and martial art. Cardio Capoeira is very challenging indeed. An exercise session involves heavy sparring (i.e dancing ) that can be done either solo or with a partner. It involves a lot of kicking, spinning and cartwheels. In this workout the buttocks, quadriceps and hamstrings are really exercised due to the multiple repetitions of a deep side-to-side lunge which links one capoeira movement to the next.

Cardio Salsa is a low-impact but high intensity workout combining prcise, fast-paced Latin choreography – merengue, mambo, cha-cha, samba – with traditional aerobic dance steps (such as the grapevine), repeated lunges, and arm raises. The great advantage of this exercise programme is that what is learned can be practised on the dance floor. Knowing the steps and being able to move to complex rhythms is likely to increase self-confidence and poise.

Masala Bhangra , is a challenging workout, based on the traditional folk dance of India. It involves a choreographed series of hops, foot stomping and hip gyrations accompanied by hip-hop influenced bhangra music and live drumming. Most moves are performed while vigorously shaking the arms at 45 degree angles to the side of the body and doing multiple, rapid-fire shoulder raises. This form of dance workout results in firm arms and sculpted shoulders. The same sort of classes are also known as Bhangra Aerobics.

There is now a dance form which is proving highly popular with people in general and is proving to be a great hit with children. The video game Dance Dance Revolution (D.D.R) is made by Konami of Japan where it was located in arcades in that country.It is now more usually played on Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s box game consoles.
There are a number of other games such as Red Octanes’s In the Groove, Pump It Up, Exceed, Dance Along and Para Para Paradise.

The video game Dance Dance Revolution and other such games may be a means of helping children loose weight. As a song plays (and all sorts of music is suitable) arrows pointing forward, back, left and right, appear on the screen in various sequences and combinations. The players must step on the matching arrows on a mat on the floor. Players can dance by themselves, with a partner or in competition

Some states in the U.S are already using it as a regular part of their physical education curriculum. Dance Dance Revolution offers exercise without children having to possess the skills demanded by sport and games. As a result it appeals to children across the board.

A study was carried out last year in Rochester, Minn. an area which has a particularly severe problem with childhood obesity. The research team from the Mayo Clinic found that children playing Dance Dance Revolution used significantly more energy than children watching television and playing traditional video games. D.D.R does meet standards for aerobic fitness by raising the heart rate sufficiently for the required period of time.

In Redmond, Oregon In the Groove was installed in third and fourth grade classrooms for a five-month study. The most “at risk” students were chosen to become “Groove Masters”, mentors to other children. Some of the results from the study included:-

1. Absenteeism dropped by more than 50%

2. According to teachers, 85% of the mentors grew in social skills

3. 94% of the students who took part showed increases in leadership skills and confidence, which increased self-esteem and improved academic performance.

4. 4th grade students who took part in the study improved their mile run by 13.8%

5.Students became more enthusiastic about sports, fitness and dance,

The games were shown to give a good aerobic workout and to assist in weight loss, a very important factor in the battle against childhood obesity.

Dr Debra Liebermann of the Dept. of Communications, at UC Santa Barbara calls this video activity “exergaming”. She described Dance Dance Revolution as a game, a social activity, a dance and performance platform, a workout and weight loss tool, and a classroom and workplace activity. She lists a number of reasons for its appeal:- the games challenges, the music, the joy of movement, the work out, and social interactions.

There are versions that allow aerobic instructors to work with a group.

Dr Liebermann’s conclusions regarding these games was that they “make a very positive contribution to player’s stress management, weight management, fitness and health”.

This is perhaps a form of dance which will be acceptable to overweight children in that it is a fun happening which they will be happy to take part in.

Parents do take medical advice before putting your overweight child on a diet and exercise programme.

If children are not immediately attracted to a specific kind of dance – experiment. There’s a dance out there for everyone. Have fun finding it!

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