Greek dancing is good for the health of the elderly and will improve fitness levels, experts claim.
The advice to dance like Zorba follows recommendations to follow other Mediterranean-lifestyle traits like a diet rich in olive oil, tomatoes and Greek yoghurt.
A study found that elderly people improved their fitness levels and were more likely to be active all year round if they took up Greek dancing.
Those who took up the activity boosted muscle strength in their legs and could walk further than people who lead a sedentary lifestyle.
The study included 40 Greek patients with long-term heart conditions who were randomly assigned to a three month rehabilitation programme based on traditional Greek dancing or to their usual sedentary lifestyle.
Exercise training consisted of three 40 to 65 minute weekly sessions. Patients were 73 years old on average and none had done any exercise in the past year.
At the start and end of the study, the researchers tested patients’ jumping ability, including jump height, amount of time the feet were in contact with the ground, and strength and speed during the jumps.
Strength of the leg muscles was assessed using a six-minute walking test. At the start of the study there was no difference between groups in any of the measurements.
After three months, patients who participated in Greek dancing jumped higher and faster than the sedentary patients. They also had stronger legs and could walk further, demonstrating more endurance.
When the researchers compared the performance of the dancing group at the start and end of the study, they found that their endurance and leg strength had improved by 10 per cent and they jumped 10 per cent higher and around six per cent faster.
The sedentary group showed no change between the initial and final measurements.
Study author Zacharias Vordos, of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, said: “Greek dancing is an important part of weddings and other celebrations, and is popular among older people. We believed dancing would increase the attractiveness of rehabilitation programmes for patients with chronic heart failure.
“This was the first study to assess the impact of traditional Greek dancing on jumping ability. Our study shows that traditional Greek dancing improves strength, endurance and jumping ability in elderly patients with heart failure.
“Patients who participated in Greek dancing jumped higher at the end of the training programme, probably because they had stronger leg muscles. The physical benefits of Greek dancing should give patients more independence in daily life by helping them to walk and climb stairs. It should also improve their coordination and reduce their risk of falling and being injured. It is possible that Greek dancing also gives cardiac benefit as demonstrated by Zumba fitness programmes with Latin music.”
Mr Vordos added: “Attendance at the dancing sessions was more than 90 per cent which suggests that this type of cardiac rehabilitation could attract more patients than the usual programmes.
“Traditional Greek dancing is enjoyable and sociable, and we have now shown that it leads to health benefits in elderly patients with chronic heart failure.”
The research is published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.