Zumba – Party Your Way to Fitness

Get off the treadmill and join the Zumba craze!

September 11, 2015 | | Good Sport

Avocados, peanut butter, red wine and blueberries may be “brain” foods, but chances are they fall short of Zumba (an invented word pronounced “Zoombah”) in their ability to stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

“Zumba?” you say. “Is that a newly discovered, anti-oxidant-laden Latin American vegetable?”

In truth, you don’t eat Zumba, you do Zumba – along with some 15 million people who practise this form of energetic exercise around the world every week.

According to the official website, Zumba is “an exhilarating, effective, easy-to-follow, Latin-inspired, calorie-burning dance fitness party.” It’s also an international business started after Beto Perez, a Colombian dancer and fitness instructor, forgot to bring his usual music to an aerobics class and substituted salsa and merengue. Since then, Perez and his partners have turned this combination of dance and aerobics into a multimillion-dollar fitness craze that is as much fun as it is exercise. Zumba’s website advises, “Ditch the workout, join the party.”

But does Zumba improve fitness and what is its link to dementia?

There is no doubt you can get a great workout following the steps of cumbia, bachata, bhangra, West Coast swing and Bollywood styles of dance when they are interspersed with jumping jacks, lunges and other typical aerobic moves. Competitors on the TV show So You Think You Can Dance are, after all, breathless at the end of their performance.

According to Ivonne Ibarra, the Venezuelan-born Zumba instructor at the Riverdale Fitness Mill in Inglewood, you can burn up to a thousand calories an hour when you get going. Trying to mimic the sway of Ivonne’s fluid hips is a workout in itself. The more familiar you become with the steps, the easier it is to raise your heart rate in a Zumba class.

Belfountain resident Grecia Mayers-Kendall added Zumba to her fitness routine expressly for the aerobic workout. Born in Barbados, Grecia fell instantly in love with Zumba. It complements her yoga and pilates classes, she says, and her fellow classmates are part of the fun. The Zumba class at Riverdale has attracted the same core group for nearly ten years. “We are more than a class. It’s a kind of sisterhood,” says Ivonne.

I experienced that camaraderie when I joined the class one Wednesday morning. The other eight students introduced themselves, volunteered pointers, and were clearly excited to have someone new join the ranks.

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  • This was not a closed shop, and my worries about looking foolish evaporated seconds after the class began. It wasn’t that I was a star pupil; it was more that everyone was doing their own thing. In front of me Kathy followed Ivonne’s moves – to a point. She upped the tempo and interpreted Ivonne’s lead in her own heart-rate-raising way.

    I don’t know whether Kathy burned a thousand calories over the next hour, but her workout was every bit as strenuous as an aerobics class and a good deal more creative. Whereas the goal in a typical aerobics or yoga class is to mimic the moves of the instructor, Zumba classes teach you some basic steps and then it’s up to you to improvise.

    Grecia, who has been attending for about six weeks, is beginning to add her own flair. “I really come alive when Ivonne plays a song called ‘Fireball,’” she says.

    My favoured Zumba music, the type that made me forget about trying and just get down to doing, was from a Bollywood movie – who would have guessed? It was part of the repertoire put together by Janice M-Eisenberg who teaches Zumba at the Caledon Centre for Recreation and Wellness just north of Bolton.

    With one parent from Jamaica and the other from Trinidad, Janice puts her own spin on Zumba, explaining that instructors are encouraged to bring their own personality to their classes. Her focus combines fitness and Latin dance, and she includes some calypso and soca music from the Caribbean.

    Ivonne Ibarra (left) leads Zumba classes at Riverdale Fitness Mill. She mentored Janice M-Eisenberg (right) who now leads classes at Caledon Centre for Recreation and Wellness. Photo by Rosemary Hasner / Black Dog Creative Arts.

    Ivonne Ibarra (left) leads Zumba classes at Riverdale Fitness Mill. She mentored Janice M-Eisenberg (right) who now leads classes at Caledon Centre for Recreation and Wellness. Photo by Rosemary Hasner / Black Dog Creative Arts.

    And the link to dementia? A number of studies now show that regular exercise can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, a 21-year study, undertaken at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003, found frequent dancing reduced the risk of dementia among 469 elderly subjects. Though reading and doing crossword puzzles were also credited with helping reduce memory loss, dancing was the star.

    As one gerontologist noted, dancing requires physical and mental and social skills. The study’s authors explained the result by suggesting that the most effective activities for preventing Alzheimer’s disease require split-second, rapid-fire decision-making.

    So if you find it challenging to follow your Zumba instructor’s intricate steps or complex hand movements, don’t get frustrated. Remember, the more complicated the move, the more likely you are to remember it.

    More Info

    For more information about Zumba and to find a class near you, visit zumba.com. If you fall in love with the idea of a fitness party, you might want to participate in Party in Pink, a Zumbathon to raise money for breast cancer research. The event takes place at Orangeville District Secondary School on October 17. For details, see partyinpink.com, or email Tabitha Irwin at [email protected].

    Zumba Classes

    Zumba classes range from Zumba Step to Aqua Zumba to Zumba for children younger than three. Zumba Toning incorporates the use of weights. You can even take a Zumba cruise and visit Zumba’s private beach in Haiti. Kim Gallagher, active living co-ordinator at the Caledon Centre for Recreation and Wellness, says their family-oriented Zumba classes are popular. Both mums and dads bring their youngsters. “We realize that fitness doesn’t have to be running on a treadmill,” says Kim. “It is about movement.”

    About the Author More by Nicola Ross

    Freelance writer Nicola Ross lives in Alton and is the author of the bestselling 'Loops and Lattes' hiking guide series.

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