Partner Dancing Benefits the Brain and Body

From my article in UCLA Healthy Years.  For more health news, check out University Health News.

Stimulate neurons and improve mood when dancing with others.

If you’re looking to meet new people, get a little exercise and do something for your brain, consider partner dancing.

164580_1535127340096_4345456_n-2“Social dancers are some of the most welcoming, supportive people out there,” says Lora Wilson, board certified dance therapist at the UCLA Arts and Healing Social Emotional Arts program. “Most classes are set up so that partners change regularly. So if you don’t have a partner, you can go by yourself and you will meet and dance with many people over the course of a night.”

Partner dances include everything from traditional ballroom, such as waltz, foxtrot, and swing, to more sultry Latin dances, like salsa and Argentine tango. Each dance has its own unique steps, protocols, and even clothing and shoes for those who really get into the groove. For many people, partner dancing fosters a healthy passion and a whole new network of friends.

How partner dancing benefits the brain

The brain continually rewires itself and creates new neural connections as required. That’s the essence of what’s called the neuroplasticity of the brain. It’s also what keeps the brain young. Stop learning new things, and the brain stops making new connections.

Dancing promotes neuroplasticity because you’re constantly multitasking—navigating the dance floor, integrating new movement patterns with music, and connecting with your partner. Spilt second decision-making is also part of the process, which relies more on intuition and trust than intellectual thinking. “Research has shown that exercise, social interaction, and novelty each stimulate activity-dependent genes that initiate the process of creating new neurons in our brain,” says Wilson. “Social dancing is an activity that integrates all three of these neuron-growing activities in one experience.”

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the relationship between leisure activities and the risk of dementia in 469 subjects older than 75 years of age who resided in a retirement community. None had dementia at baseline. Of the physical activities analyzed (including dancing, walking, bowling, and bicycling), dancing was the only physical activity associated with a lower risk of dementia. Fewer than 10 subjects played golf or tennis, so those activities weren’t assessed in this study.

Tango helps those with Parkinson’s disease

Dancing the Argentine tango could have potential benefits for people at certain stages of Parkinson’s disease, according to findings of a small study by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital–The Neuro, McGill University and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. The study looked at changes in patients’ motor abilities following a 12-week tango course, and is also the first study to assess the effect that tango has on non-motor symptoms.

Tango requires specific steps that involve rhythmically walking forward and backward. This may be particularly helpful for walking difficulties, especially for freezing of gait and to prevent backward falls. In addition, tango requires working memory, control of attention, and multitasking to incorporate newly learned and previously learned dance elements, to stay in rhythm with the music, and maneuver around others on the dance floor. In particular, researchers noted that tango was helpful in improving balance and functional mobility, and had modest benefits in terms of patients’ cognitive functions. It also helped reduce fatigue.

Non-verbal, physical communication

While there are rules that govern all dances, socially, partner dances are not choreographed. Partners learn basic steps and cues to understand how to communicate with each other non-verbally in class. Once the social dancing begins, it’s totally improvised to the music. You never know for sure exactly what is going to happen next. Partners must listen and respond to each other in this music-inspired physical conversation. It is among the joys and challenges of partner dancing.

Dancing is as integral to human life as music. It fosters self-expression and lifts the spirit. Likewise, socializing is ever more important as we age. Partner dancing enables you to grow your circle of friends whether you have a spouse or not.

“Moving in synchrony with others to shared rhythms improves our mood and feelings of belonging and connection with others,” says Wilson. “Engaging in shared rhythms is a natural community builder, pain reliever and mood enhancer.” You can find partner dance classes in YMCAs, dance studios, community centers, and through the popular website

Improve your productivity in two minutes

“Above all else, breathe.”

That is a quote from Joseph H. Pilates, the man who invented a system of movement now popular around the world. Obviously, many ancient practices encourage breathing for meditation and health regulation. Joe integrated much ancient wisdom in his method. But we are only now as a Western society catching on to what has been known in the East for thousands of years.

Of course, Joe was also talking talking about MOVING while consciously breathing just as is done with yoga. You may not always be able to take a movement break — but you can take a breathing break anytime, anywhere.

“Above all else breathe.”

There are some companies that INSIST workers take breathing breaks. It’s no surprise that they are among the most highly innovative companies.

Breathe: We did this at Google. We had them take their hands off their keyboards two minutes a day, and watch their breath go in and out. This raises accuracy rates. Improves levels of happiness. Drops their stress levels. 

To those employers who refuse to let workers take a break outside for a breath of fresh air, you need to rethink your position.  I recently came across such an employer who balked when an employee wanted to take a walk break and asked for some exercise devices for her desk.  Dear employer:  you’re being extremely short-sighted.  Your employers are LESS productive the more chained to the desk they are.  Study after study proves it.  But don’t take my word for it, here’s what Harvard researchers say.

Exercise isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. A recent study that likened sitting as the new smoking is getting more people to sit up and take notice.  Now hear this: The latest is that even if you workout before or after work, if you sit on your duff for hours on end — you are still at higher risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and  heart disease.

Being self-employed is no less stressful.  It’s a constant self-imposed grind at times. But I know that if I don’t workout and take care of myself all else suffers including my ability to focus and help my clients.

woman jumping pink blseSo next time you’re feeling stressed and under massive deadline pressures — do the non intuitive thing — stop and BREATHE. Then STAND UP and move.  March in place, do a few jumping jacks, twist, side bend — just a minute or two will make a huge difference.  Try this a few times throughout your day and see for your self.

Then spread the word.

And if you want someone to come in and take your employees through a 25-minute exercise routine that counter balances the effects of sitting, there are plenty of trainers willing to come to your worksite to do just that.

Is Defeat Sweeter Than Victory?

Do you reach for ice cream or chocolate when feeling blue?  Well you’re not alone.  Turns out even elite athletes may crave the sweet stuff after a loss, according to a new study from Cornell.

Victory was certainly sweet for the U.S. Women’s World Cup team 5-2 victory this weekend – but it’s a safe bet that the vanquished team from Japan was reaching for actual sweets after the stunning upset.

Research by Cornell food scientists reveals how a person’s emotional state – particularly in the competitive, wide world of sports – affects the perception of taste. In particular, people in negative emotional states tend to crave sweets more than those in a positive frame of mind.

“We determined how emotions arising from the outcome of college hockey games influenced the perception of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (savory) taste, … in addition to hedonic responses ­– or how much they liked or disliked the foods,” said Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Dando, who with Corinna Noel, a doctoral student in food science, published “The Effect of Emotional State on Taste Perception” in the journal Appetite, June 27.

“Emotional manipulations in the form of pleasantly or unpleasantly perceived real-life events can influence the perception of taste, driving the acceptability of foods,” said Dando. “These results imply that such modulation of taste perception could promote emotional eating in times of negative emotion.”

The study shows that emotions experienced in everyday life can alter the hedonic experience of less-palatable food, implying a link to emotional eating, according to the researchers. Dando explained, “In times of negative affect, foods of a less pleasurable nature become even more unappealing to taste, as more hedonically pleasing foods remain pleasurable.

“This is why when the team wins, we’re okay with our regular routine foods, but when they lose, we’ll be reaching for the ice cream.”

An occasional indulgence isn’t going to hurt anyone’s performance.  The key is occasional. Let yourself have a sweet but then get back on track. For quick tips on squeezing fitness into your day, check out these three weird ways to exercise at your desk.


You are losing muscle mass: you must fail to get it back

Are you over the age of 30?  Then you’re already on the sarcopenia road – age related muscle loss.  If you’re inactive you naturally lose as much as 5% of your muscle mass every decade starting in your 30s.  Even if you do workout, there will be some muscle decline. You can however, minimize how much.

I’m not going to lie to you.  It will take work. HARD work.  If you want to feel good in your body, you’re going to have to work for it.

Recently I made a cross country move.  Talk about stressful!  While I finally found  home, I now have to remake my life, find new friends, new jobs … I’m near menopause. Yawzah! I packed on some pounds especially round the middle (thanks some to middle age hormones but thanks also to personal choices) despite the fact that I DO workout regularly.

But you know what?  I wasn’t working out hard enough.  I wasn’t building muscle mass and it was slipping away fast.  For the first time in my life I have this weird fat around my middle – ick.  I love Pilates, yoga, swimming and biking – – and was doing them.  But here’s the reality: I wasn’t building muscle mass. So I decided to take action and integrate the principles of building muscle.

To efficiently build muscle, you must work against resistance to FAILURE.

So what does that mean?  It means if you are lifting weights, say bicep curls, you have to lift and squeeze your muscle each time you lift and keeping lifting until you really can not lift it any more.  That is muscle failure. That is what will efficiently BUILD your muscle.

Note that I said efficiently.  Are there other ways?  Yeah but they’ll take longer and resistance is still required.

This past week I have integrated the “at failure” principle into my workouts.  I’ve been lifting good old fashioned weights the tried and true way with dumbbells.  I’ve done my upper body twice and lower body twice – each time pushing my last set to failure.

I feel great.  I feel my muscle tone returning.  Yes – in one week. Of course, I’m not eating ice cream and potato chips and drinking every night.  I am keeping my choices on the lean side though truth be told I’ve had a few drinks this week (hey it’s a work in progress)

Morale of the story: determine what your fitness goals are and know that in all likelihood you can reach them.  Prepare your self MENTALLY.  Because in the end this will be what’s needed more than anything. You will need self-control and you may do well to get yourself a trainer because studies show that you will get fitter faster with a coach at your side. 

Know also that you CAN succeed.

My continual challenge is one of endurance.  I can be a real zealot at the start but then the enthusiasm drops off.  Knowing that’s my nature (in more than one area of my life) is really valuable because now I know it WILL happen and I CAN just say, hey that’s just a novelty wearing off and now I’ve got to work with my mind to really dig in.

One way is to acknowledge the success I’ve already had and know that if I stay the course there’s more success to come.

Need more inspiration?  Listen to this song by Pink


20150515_152959_resizedThis is a story of silly putty, a small inflatable ball and a flex band.  These little ditties are cheap, easy to stash at your work station and handy little fitness objects. Two of the three you can use without anyone knowing in case you want to be stealth about the whole thing. The use of the flex band, however, is not so easy to hide. But I say be loud and proud of your creative fitness initiatives. You could inspire a whole movement!

I have had this fantasy of all the desk workers of
American rising up at noon to stretch with their flex bands.  Why not?

  1. Silly Putty.  I have this habit of wanting to crunch and munch on stuff while writing and reading at the desk. If not that, my hands are on my face/chin – not good for the complexion.  I had some silly putty around so started playing with it. Soon my fingers were really getting into it  — stretching, squishing and popping the bubbles (almost as satisfying as bubble wrap) I realized wow what a great hand/finger strengthener!  It’s a great way to de-stress, too.
  2. Small Inflatable Rubber Ball. Hello inner thighs!  I got this idea from my new recent lunch time activity – swimming and squeezing a small buoyant board so I can work only my arms. The next day I could totally feel my inner thighs. It wasn’t hard to do but holding the board with sustained effort for 10-minutes+ and voila. You can do the same. Gently squeeze a small rubber ball — just enough to hold it there will make your thighs happy.  Check out these balls and you can get some for you office pals.
  3. Flex band.  Get up, stand up, stand up for your right to stretch! Flex bands offer many, many fitness opportunities. To counter balance all that sitting, hold it behind you with your hands together and pull it apart. Hold the band above your head pull it apart and stretch side to side. I’m sure your body will make suggestions too — follow your innate wisdom. Different colors offer different resistance levels.  Power-systems is a fun place to shop for bands.

So there you have it. Three easy ways to fit a little fitness while at your desk.  For more ideas on fitting exercise into your day, click here.


Want to feel better in your body right now? Move it.

Talk about instant gratification!  In just minutes you’ll feel the rush of increased blood flow circulating around, it’s an internal warmth and buzz.  A self-generated positive induced high from which you will reap rewards not only now but tomorrow and beyond.

At your desk?  Stand up. Jump or shake. Freak out your office mates. Maybe you’ll start a trend. I just got a DeskCycle and I’ll report on it soon. At first glance, I’m impressed.

Lately I’ve decided to push my self harder.  Like everyone else, I can fall complacent.  Sure I work out most days – but with kind of attitude? Sometimes I just go through the motions.  Lately I’ve done that a little too much. Then I met someone who though super challenged by Type 1 diabetes and a heart valve replacement, he was out doing triathlons at 58 and coming in first in his age category.

Well if he can ….

I decided to ramp it up and cross train. Gone is this little click in my hip joint (slightly misaligned pevlis that I put back into place with my best go-to method, Pilates). Most days I also do a quick ride about my new home, Siesta Key.  A 6 mile lunchtime loop to get me off my writer’s butt and into the glorious beauty of this island.

I feel fantastic.

Return to Life is a book written by Joseph Pilates many years ago. Like so many pioneers, he was way ahead of his time.  Now, almost 100 years later, his system has exploded in popularity. It is a logical, robust method for exercising the mind, body and spirit. While you won’t hear much about the “spirit” part, it was very much a part of Joe’s approach.

Pilates has completely changed my life and my body. It is something that you can do for the rest of your life. It is save and effective for most everyone at any age. As a Pilates instructor, I have had the privilege to work with many people and have seen first hand the light return to their eyes and an new energy return to their being.  That, my friends, is the spirit part.

Just today, I got an email from the National Institutes of Health with some very good tips on how people can integrate more activity into their lives. It’s especially important in our society now because we have become ever so sedentary. And more and more reports show that being active makes a difference in how you feel and can prevent and reverse certain health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Moving more and sitting less can reduce your risk for many serious conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain kinds of cancer. Some studies suggest that physical activity can have mental benefits as well, helping to relieve depression and maintain thinking abilities as you age. Healthful physical activity includes exercise as well as many everyday activities, such as doing active chores around the house, yard work, or walking the dog. 

Source: National Institutes of Health 

For more tips on how to fit more fitness into your day, click here.

What motivates you to move?  Share it maybe your story will helps others move too.

What are Native, Sponsored, and Content Marketing ?

It’s tough being a marketer these days.  There’s no way you can ignore what’s happening online but how on earth do you decide where to place your bets?  Pintrest.  Facebook. Twitter. Linkedin.  YouTube. Vine. And/or the emerging next new thing.  All are viable social media outlets.

The number one question is as it always has been – who is your audience?

If you’re seeking a younger crowd – say under 35 – you’ve got a myriad of social outlets and campaigns to consider.  For the older folks, the outlets may shrink but you certainly can’t ignore digital even for the post 65 and beyond crowd.  My 83 year mother is active on Facebook, was online banking before I was and is a voracious reader of news on the web.  She’s got the time.  And she’s got a nest egg that I am sure many an advertiser wouldn’t mind getting their paws on – say healthcare providers.

Which brings me to the subject at hand – the new(isn) world of marketing online through content.  So many terms are being bandied about that it’s hard to keep track.  As someone who offers content I needed a better understanding to help my clients better strategize where to budget their creative.  This article more fully explains it but here are the main definitions in a nutshell:

  • Native advertising = advertising that appears on a specific outlet such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin.  They are part of the stream of information – like the “you might also like” posts that appear on your Facebook page.
  • Sponsored Content = where an advertiser sponsors an article but doesn’t unduly influence the content. That content appears on news or publishing sites and would have some kind of banner or line saying “sponsored by XZY company”.
  • Content Marketing = information materials such as white papers, videos, free tips sheets, newsletters, ebooks designed to inform consumers in hopes they’ll appreciate your insights and promote and/or buy your products/services.

I love web publishing – doing it, learning about it, and networking with those who provide various services in the online world.  It reminds of being a producer in my old TV days.  While I don’t need to know how to operate all the equipment I do need to know what the technology can do to ply my writing trade. These days, there’s a lot to know.  So I focus on providing sponsored content articles, content marketing, and publishing mostly through WordPress. It’s plenty to keep me busy and my clients happy.


Get fit faster. Hire a personal trainer.

A groundbreaking new study from UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine reveals that personal trainers can have a dramatic impact on fitness levels. Here’s how self-directed exercisers compared to those coached by personal trainers:

  •  Increased their lean body mass by 3.3 pounds, while self-trained group saw no change.
  •  Increased muscle strength by 42% vs. 19% in self-trained group.
  •  Increased muscle power by 10% vs. 0.1% in self-trained group.
  • Increased VO2 Max by 6% vs. a 3% decrease in self-trained group.

I have two jobs: freelance writer specializing in health and Pilates instructor. Pilates is taught on the mat in group classes and as a private, personal training

courtesy balanced bodyexperience.  If you want to get the greatest return on your investment in time.  Do it one-on-one. If you want to avoid injuries, get inspired, and realize more of your own potential – hire an fitness expert to help you. Of course, you want someone that’s well qualified because sadly, a personal training and Pilates certification can be earned in a weekend. So look beyond certification acronyms. True pros earn the equivalent of a master’s degree and continue to earn education credits to maintain their credentials.

They should have some people skills as well as educational background. Don’t be shy, ask about their experience and their background. They too, should ask you some key questions.  To learn more about what to look for, what to ask, and what they should ask you click here

Anyone can bark out orders. I recently read about someone who felt ill, stupid and embarrassed after a session. Um, just no.  A professional will design a program that fits your needs, challenges you and also inspires you to believe in yourself.

When I first started in the fitness business more than 10 years ago, someone said to me, “personal trainers are just babysitters for people who don’t know how to work out.”

Oh yeah?  Tell that to professional athletes and Olympic champions who rely on their trainers for inspiration, motivation, and fitness know-how. And now those who have invested their hard earned cash into personal trainers can rest assured – with well qualified trainers – you will see better results.