Posted Online: Dec. 07, 2012, 2:06 pm

Trainer's forgetfulness two decades ago leads to longer lives

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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Zumba class instructor Patrice Williams on stage before a class at Skellington Manor Rock Island.
Zumba is a type of exercise dance party that could help lengthen your life. "As a type of cardiovascular workout Zumba is beneficial to heart health," according to the American College of Sports Medicine. "As an aerobic dance class participants burn calories and fat." Zumba is considered a weight-bearing activity, like walking or running. This helps maintain and improve bone density.

Zumba classes for all ages have proliferated around the world since the early 1990s. It all started when a Colombian fitness trainer Alberto Perez forgot to bring his regular aerobics-style music tape to the group exercise class he was leading. With no music and a class to teach he went back to his car and got a cassette tape of Latin dance music. He used Merengue and Rumba steps he knew to create an aerobic dance experience for his class.

Eventually he moved to Miami, Florida and transformed his class into what is known today as Zumba.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) funded a study of Zumba results at the University of Wisconsin. Researchers found that subjects burned an average of 369 calories per class. "The surprising thing is that it doesn't matter what fitness level you're at -- our research shows that with Zumba everyone is working out at the zone that's recommended for improving cardio-health," said researcher Mary Luettgen. Researchers also found Zumba burns more calories than several other forms of cardiovascular activities.

Zumba incorporates the concept of exercise for the body and music for the soul. Zumba use several styles of Latin rhythms including Salsa, (Cuban); Merenge, (Dominican Republic); Tango (Rio de la Plata); belly dance (traditional West Asia); Cha Cha ( Cuban); Samba (Brazil); Cumbia (Columbia); Rumba (Cuban); and Bachata (Dominican Republic).

The popular classes that last from 45 to 60 minutes. The Center for Disease Control says obesity in America is an epidemic. The CDC says obesity can lead to coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes; cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon), hypertension (high blood pressure), dyslipidemia (high cholesterol or high triglycerides), stroke, liver and Gallbladder disease; sleep apnea and respiratory problems, osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint) and gynecological problems.

The obesity problem may result in part due to lifestyle improvements brought by the Industrial Revolution. As technology has advanced, the levels of physical fitness have decreased.

In the early 1900s some common causes of death were influenza, diphtheria, scarlet fever, pneumonia and other infections. They were alleviated with the discovery of Penicillin. The health cost of industrialization and urbanization became apparent starting in the 1950s as hypokinetic diseases that occur from obesity and a sedentary lifestyle became more prevalent. These diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and type II diabetes are now recognized as leading causes of disease and death.

Regular exercising, even initiated late in life, can help prevent these diseases and slow down the aging process. Inside the cells are fragments of DNA called telomeres that basically help cells stay healthy. The progressive and gradual erosion of telomeres leads to aging on the cellular level.

They can be considered an accurate biological clock. Once your telomeres drop below a certain level, you simply die of natural causes, according to research. New research has demonstrated that aerobic exercise can lengthen the life of those pieces of DNA. Several studies done at the University of California, San Francisco, found psychological stress leads to shorter telomeres that seemed to go away in people who exercise vigorously three times a week.

Benjamin Franklin recommended regular physical activity including running, swimming and basic forms of resistance training. President Thomas Jefferson said, "Not less than two hours a day should be devoted to exercise and the weather shall be little regarded. If the body is feeble, the mind will not be strong." President Theodore Roosevelt may have been the most physical fit president. He recognized the importance of exercise and physical activity. President John F. Kennedy said, "We are under-exercised as a nation, we look instead of play, ride instead of walk. Physical fitness is the basis for all other forms of excellence."

The American Cancer society has noted that dance can be used as therapy, clinical reports suggest dance is effective in improving self-esteem and reducing stress. There are Zumba classes for both men and women in the Quad-Cities area. The libraries at Port Byron and Cordova offer evening classes by a qualified instructor.

After taking Zumba classes for one year, I found I was able to slowly run on our hike on the Napau Trail to Mauna Ulu on the side of the larger mountain of Kilauea in Hawaii last year. The trail was strewn with lava rocks making running easier than walking. Many physical tasks are now easier after my second year of classes.
Marlene Gantt of Port Byron is a former Rock Island school teacher.