Julie Verhoeff confesses she's not the kind of person who likes to exercise in a gym. But ask the 69-year-old to go square dancing, and she's ready to swing her partner and doh-si-doh.
Julie Verhoeff and her 73-year-old husband, Hans Verhoeff, are among a growing number of seniors nationwide who have embraced square dancing as a way to both have fun and stay mentally alert and physically agile.
The Grass Valley couple is a member of the Nevada City Goldancers, a 59-year-old square dancing club - the oldest of its kind in California, Julie Verhoeff said.
"Square dancing is all about listening, processing and executing," she said. "Medical research has shown it helps keep off Alzheimer's. Research has also shown square dancing has a direct correlation with higher math."
Square dancing lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, age-related memory loss, osteoporosis, depression and certain types of cancer, according to WebMD. The twisting and turning movements in square dancing also promotes healthy bones.
In square dancing, four couples dance in a square formation and respond to instructions shouted out by the caller. The instructions, which are delivered continuously during the dance, include guiding dancers through the square formation and telling them to do particular dance moves.
"The steps in square dancing come from all over the world through all immigrants that this country consists of," Julie Verhoeff said. The American dance has influences from Ireland, Holland, Germany, Norway and Sweden, she added.
Carol Riddle, 65, of Penn Valley, has been square dancing for 16 years. She learned the dance in the Bay Area, where she was a project manager for Lockheed Martin.
"I found it alleviated a lot of the stress of my daytime activities," Riddle said. "Square dancing is great for mental acumen because not only are you doing the physical activity, you're using your brain to follow instructions and you have to respond quickly."
Carol Riddle said her 79-year-old husband, Grant Riddle, is also an avid square dancer "and looks 10 to 15 years younger than what he is."
"I think (square dancing) helps me stay in shape, keep my weight down and keep my intellect sharp," she said. "For my husband, who's had a heart attack, square dancing is his main physical activity."
Square dancing is also a great way to make friends, as 70-year-old Lynne Martinson of Alta Sierra, discovered when she and her husband first moved to Grass Valley from Southern California in 1986.
"We got instant friends once we started dancing with the Goldancers," Martinson said.
"The big thing is it gets you off the couch and away from the television," she added.
Above all, unlike sweating alone on a treadmill, square dancing is fun.
"It's a very fun activity," Carol Riddle said. "As you move through the formation, people tend to smile. We have a friendly kind of a group."
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