Thinking you move faster than you do is not your imagination. While it takes 150 msec for your feet to get the message to move once the brain says “go,” people typically sense movement starts in half that time. The brain is predicting when movement will occur. Everyone at any age has the perception that they are moving quicker and more fluidly than they actually are.
The ability to sense movement is known as proprioception. Aging, chronic disease, and trauma impair this ability, making it take longer for the message to reach its destination. However, even though the transmittal is taking longer, the brain is still predicting movement based on when the message was sent. So, unfortunately, your smooth dance floor moves are not as graceful or as on beat as you perceive them to be.
Studies have shown there is a correlation between diminished proprioception and the loss of muscle and joint strength. Based on this correlation, proprioception starts to decline after age 60 such that it takes twice as long for the message to get to its destination by age 80. Impaired proprioception also leads to an increased risk of falling because we perceive movement like a 60-year-old but move like an 80-year-old.
However, there is hope. While the decline in proprioception from chronic disease and trauma is always present, appropriate and proper physical activity can slow the age-related decline in proprioception.
Having a strong core through balance exercises is key to preserving proprioception, and one of the best balance exercises is dance. Dance incorporates balance moves without you even knowing it. When we side salsa, lifting our plant foot while side stepping, we are balancing. When we do kicks and knee lifts, we are balancing. When we tango forward, placing one foot in front of the other, we are balancing. When we do foot circles on the ground or in the air, we are balancing.
Balance moves strengthen our core muscles and joints, and dance (variations in steps, formations, speed, and rhythm) keeps our brain healthy by creating new pathways and keeping the old ones functioning optimally. Since dance slows the age-related decline in our body’s communication system, it keeps us moving and independent longer. Let’s dance!