People in workout gear and white hair dancing Zumba Gold.

Getting Started With Zumba Gold for Parkinson's Disease

Research shows that dance can be quite beneficial for people who have Parkinson's disease (PD), no matter their age. It seems it can often help with balance, mobility, motor performance, endurance and quality of life.1 

Many of the studies done to date have looked at dance formats such as tango or the popular NY-based Dance for PD® program. But Zumba® Fitness is another dance fitness format that has proved to be beneficial as well for many people, including those with PD.

If your vision of the Zumba program, though, is pounding music, crazy jumps and turns, and suggestive movements, you might wonder how this could possibly be the right choice for people with PD. My answer is Zumba Gold®! This modified form of Zumba is actually quite perfect for many Parkinson's disease sufferers. In this post, I'll cover the details of this type of dance fitness and how you might get started with it.

What is Zumba and how is Zumba Gold different?

The Zumba.com website describes Zumba as "exercise in disguise."2 This program uses Latin and world rhythms to mix high and low-intensity moves in an interval-style, party-type atmosphere. The emphasis is on moving your body to the music and having fun, not on memorizing choreography. It's a total body workout that combines all elements of fitness: cardio, muscle conditioning, balance, and flexibility.

If you've watched the infomercials for Zumba or witnessed a class at your local gym, you may have the impression that it is only for young, twenty-somethings with hard bodies and skimpy outfits. In reality, though, Zumba appeals to a wide variety of people with greatly varying fitness levels.

How Zumba Gold differs from Zumba

Zumba Gold was originally designed for active older adults.2 However, those of us who teach Zumba Gold know that it is really perfect for anyone who wants the same Zumba party experience to the same fun music, without all the jumping, bouncing, twirling, and complex moves.

Zumba Gold uses much of the same Latin and world rhythms, with oldies and pop music sprinkled in. It is all low impact and the moves tend to be much easier to follow than in a traditional Zumba class. But, just like Zumba, Zumba Gold focuses on all the same elements of fitness: cardiovascular, muscular conditioning, flexibility, and balance.

Benefits of dance

Dancing is an activity that has universal appeal across all age groups. Thanks to a bunch of dance competition shows on reality TV, dance has become more popular than ever, and more accessible. Dance fitness classes have exploded across the U.S. in the last decade and a half. Zumba is certainly one of the most well-known, but there are also classes based in hip hop, ballroom, ballet, Bollywood and many other formats.

Besides being fun, a potential creative outlet, and a social activity, dance is known to have some real physical benefits too. It tends to be a great form of aerobic exercise, leading to cardiovascular conditioning. This can aid in:3

  • Lowering your risk of heart disease
  • Decreasing your blood pressure,
  • Supporting weight management efforts

Plus, because dance requires weight-bearing movements, it can boost bone density and improve muscle strength, coordination, and balance overall. There are psychological benefits as well. In fact, dance has even been found to be an essential tool in lowering the risk of dementia.4

Benefits of Zumba Gold for PD

One of the things I love so much about Zumba Gold and a big reason why I think it's such a great choice for people with PD is that it is truly a class that anyone can do. There are no right or wrong moves. It's not about performance; it's about having fun and letting the music move you. Zumba Gold class is truly a "no-judgment" zone.

But studies have shown that there are some specific benefits for PD with regular Zumba Gold classes. In fact, one of the creators of the Zumba Gold format, Josie Gardiner, has worked extensively with PD patients in her classes. I've even been told that Josie developed a specialized Zumba Gold curriculum for working with PD patients. Unfortunately, I don't believe it was ever rolled out to all Zumba Gold instructors.

A small study done in the UK a few years back looked at the effects of regular Zumba Gold classes in a group of people with Parkinson's disease. Here are a few details of the study:5

  • 11 participants in their 60s and 70s with mild-to-moderate PD
  • Attended 6 Zumba Gold classes over a 6-week period (1 class/week)
  • Measured class attendance and physical effects of Zumba Gold

They found that participants consistently attended all 6 classes and showed improvements in their physical activity levels by the 6th class. They also found there were no negative effects. In general, participants enjoyed the classes and more than a third of them enrolled in continuing classes in their communities after the study. The study authors concluded that Zumba Gold is safe and effective for people with PD, but suggested a larger scale study be done.

My Zumba Gold experience with PD patients

I have to say that this study echoes what I found when teaching people with PD in my Zumba Gold classes. My students often found that the music kind of "took over" their bodies during classes. Movement while dancing became more free and easy than during walking or when performing activities of daily living. Over time, their endurance, flexibility, and balance also improved. You could even think of Zumba Gold as brain exercise!

Plus, Zumba Gold is just plain fun. It can provide a physical and mental outlet and break. The social aspects of coming together in a class community and laughing together are priceless.

How to find a Zumba Gold class

So, if you want to try a Zumba Gold class, what's the best way to get started? Although you may be able to find Zumba Gold choreography online, I don't recommend it. For many reasons, it's best to attend a live class in person with a qualified and licensed Zumba Gold instructor. These instructors are trained and experienced in working with people of all ages and all abilities. They can help you learn to modify the steps in the best way for you.

So, where do you find these classes? Well, there are a number of ways.

You could contact your local senior center to see if they offer Zumba Gold classes. Many do. If you have Silver Sneakers through your health care plan, you might check to see if they offer any "FLEX" classes in your community. Often, Zumba Gold is included in their FLEX offerings.

You can also check the Zumba website, which includes a search function for specific types of Zumba classes (such as Zumba Gold) in a specific geographic area. Some Zumba Gold classes may even be specifically geared to people with Parkinson's disease, so look around until you find the right class for you.

If you feel as though a seated class might be better for you, at least at first, you might contact your local assisted living center or retirement village to see if they offer seated Zumba Gold classes that are open to the public. I taught a number of seated classes when I lived in Boise and my students with PD really enjoyed them.

In summary

If you love to dance and are looking for an enjoyable form of exercise that might help you battle some of the effects of PD, consider giving Zumba Gold a try. You might just find it is the perfect answer for your needs.

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