Dancing…with Benefits

dancing_seniors

by guest blogger Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, best-selling author and expert on health, fitness, and nutrition

While preparing a PowerPoint presentation on how to push your own mind-body envelope to fully embrace life, I stumbled on a remarkable video that has gone viral and has had over a million shares. Here it is:

I posted it on my Facebook page to study people’s reactions. The comments were wrapped in such jubilation that I wanted to share a sampling with you:

“This is so wonderful! I hope I still doing this when I’m older! I love going dancing! We are doing a pub crawl this weekend (‘Grease’-themed) and can’t wait. I always dance wherever I go, and have to dance with my grandkids while waiting in line at restaurant.” —Lavonda 

“Happiness mastery…. We smile. We feel good. We can sure thank this man for teaching us that we are never too old for authentic joy and playfulness.” —Elyse 

“No reason to slow down at all!!!! He’s got it going!” —Doug 

“Love it!” —Andrea 

“GIT IT! GIT IT! GIT IT, BABY! WOO HOO! lol  #WHATpain??? #WHATcane???” —Vincent

That last comment really hit home. As a physician, I’m acutely compassionate about the mental and physical pain people endure throughout life’s journey. Here’s an elderly man who is probably 80-plus years old, walking with not one, but two canes, and most likely experiencing discomfort with weight bearing. Yet, he didn’t seem to have any pain while he frolicked on that outdoor dance floor.

Watching him made me recall a recent study that presented data confirming that regular aerobic activity, such as a daily walk, increases your pain tolerance over time. What a terrific return on your physical activity investment!

As I re-watched the video, I realized that these three minutes gifted us with so many life lessons, including these:

#1: Navigate life’s obstacle course with fearlessness. Many obstacles emerge during the course of a lifetime. Some are mental or physical conditions that we must adapt to. I think of one of my all-time heroines, Helen Keller, who became the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and then go on to become an advocate and leader in so many arenas. And then, there are other obstacle courses that are self-imposed. The older man’s canes are metaphors for both scenarios.

Clearly, the older man in the video had a technical need to support his aging and aching joints with a cane or two to get around. It seems somewhat miraculous that he could toss them aside and just dance with abandon. His brain was flooded with dopamine, the natural chemical of reward, and he disregarded any pain or discomfort. Instead, he got lost in the pure unmitigated pleasure of swaying to the music. Adding joy and reward to your life most definitely dampens pain and discomfort, allowing you to push your envelopes and continue to embrace each day with higher levels of vigor and vitality.

Have you heard the phrase “You’re using that excuse as a crutch for never achieving your goals”? As I watched in wonderment while this gentleman tossed his canes, I thought of how often we have inadvertently constructed crutches and canes that can hold us up when we don’t need anything. We fear we’re not strong enough, so we lean on someone or something else when we’re really very powerful and can hold our own. Reruns of fear-filled internal dialogues haunt us: You can’t do that! I’m afraid of making a mistake. What will people think if I do that? Instead of holding ourselves back, how about we confront each fear and replace the “can’t” with “can” and substitute fear with fearlessness? Change your belief system to I believe I can do this, and I will!” Toss any mental restrictions. Discard the unneeded mental crutches. Dive into the dance on your own strong mental and physical legs.

#2: Dance like no one’s watching. Our dancing man could care less about what anyone thought as he twirled and gyrated with the music. Being joined by two women, his enthusiasm seemed to grow. Toward the end of the video, watch as he deliberately runs his hands through his hair, leaving him with a tussled Albert Einstein look. The key is that he just let it rip and was unhindered by any internal warnings to stop lest someone judge. When is the last time you did anything similar? If you haven’t, why not?

#3: Infect others with joy. Scientists have shown time and time again that attitude is contagious. Negative begets negative, and the converse is true. Watch the people’s faces around him as they light up with joy. As he dances, he inspires others to get up and come alive. His joy gives others permission to ignite their own joy. Don’t wait for someone else to get you going. Launch your own joy—today, right now!

I’m grateful I found this lovely reminder of how to live life. When I find myself hearing “Watch out! Incoming!” as life’s stresses come catapulting toward me, I reach for my iPhone and hit “click” on this video screen, inhale his happiness, smile, and regroup. What a joyful reminder of what’s really important in this glorious life!

PamPeekesm-199x300 copyPamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, is a Pew Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. A triathlete and mountaineer, she is known as “the doc who walks the talk,” living what she’s learned as an expert in health, fitness, and nutrition. Her current research at the University of Maryland centers on the connection between meditation and overeating. She is the author of many best-selling books, including Fight Fat after Forty. Her newest book is the New York Times bestseller The Hunger Fix.

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2 Responses to Dancing…with Benefits

  1. Alice Green August 26, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Thank you, that was a real treat! Made tears come to my eyes, tears of joy. Thank you for sharing that lovely picture of the joy of life!! And your message to keep on moving, don’t let negative thoughts stop us from loving our life while we have it!!

  2. Lynn Davis September 3, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    A beautiful video, possibly from somewhere in South America.

    I have been learning Spanish for a number of years here in Perth, Western Australia, where we have a population of South Americans who regularly love to fiesta. Dancing at this gatherings is so uplifting, it doesn’t matter if you are 8 or 88, everyone gets up and dances joyfully, and no one cares how well you do or don’t dance, they just enjoy themselves!

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