- Written by By Lori Van Ingen By Lori Van Ingen
At age 65, Marian Condon wasn’t miserable or depressed, but she wasn’t joyous either.
She had been divorced for a number of years, but had a “wonderful job and good friends.” Condon is an adjunct nursing professor and has two grown sons.
“I was not as happy as I could be,” Condon said. “It was not as much fun. It was like I was marching, not skipping, through life,” Condon said. “I could feel better if I exercised, but I hated exercise. I tried it all—running, lifting weights, machines, gyms, yoga studios. I was never a physical person.”
However, weighing over 200 pounds, Condon was a good 65 pounds overweight and the doctor was warning her about her blood pressure and blood sugar.
And as a registered nurse with a master’s degree in primary care from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in adult education from Penn State, Condon knew she needed to make a “significant change in my life.”
Condon said she “felt bad being overweight. I was chubby by 11 years old. I went through the cycle of emotional eating, being ashamed of how I look [followed by] more eating,” she said.
It is very difficult to stay away from sweet foods when you are “addicted” to them, she said.
“I know as a nurse what an addiction is. You can become dependent on sugary foods. They elevate your mood almost instantly. You eat chocolate cake and it makes you feel better physiologically. (It’s made with sugar and flour) and the glucose, or the sugar, triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine, which raise your mood instantly.”
That’s the mechanism behind emotional eating and few educated people know that it’s unhealthy, she said. A lot of women can relate to it.
“I know how difficult it is to control when you are 60, 70, 80 pounds overweight. You think it’s an impossible challenge. ‘So what if I give up? I’ll just die a few years early,’” Condon said.
That’s when one day in her email she found a Groupon coupon for a dance studio.
“My parents liked to jitterbug and took me with them. I loved it,” she said.
But Condon thought she couldn’t learn to dance because she didn’t have a partner. She contacted the dance studio anyway and was told it didn’t matter that she didn’t have a partner because one of the instructors would dance with her at their dance parties.
She decided to give it a try and “it changed my life, absolutely,” Condon said.
She learned ballroom dancing, which encompasses many smooth dances like the foxtrot, waltz, tango, Latin dances (rumba, merengue, cha-cha), swing, hustle, and country-western.
“There’s something for everyone,” she said.
Dancing is “so much fun. I felt happier. I went almost every night after work. I got into better shape and became more attracted to exercise. I’d go to the park to walk, then jog. I bought weights ... ”
She finally could fit into the “sparkly” dresses the dancers wore.
Condon had a new motivation, a joy in the music and the positive people around her laughing and joking as they danced. She felt happier and able to control her eating. She was able to stick to a healthy diet and she lost 65 pounds in a year.
“I’m five years out now and have not regained any weight.”
Most people, she said, regain the weight they have lost over time.
Condon loved dancing so much that she decided she would write a book about how dancing can help people lose weight.
For her book, Thinner, Fitter, Happier: Dancing Will Change Your Life!, Condon interviewed 40 dancers around the country: Some are teachers and some are students, but all said dancing changed their lives.
Dancing affects your mind, spirit, soul, and relationships.
“It’s the best-kept health secret,” Condon said.
Some of the benefits of dancing are that it’s an aerobic activity, you get a mental lift from the music, you are with people having fun, and you make new friends.
“You don’t talk about politics or religion. There’s no negative conversation on the dance floor. It’s a very positive, upbeat, happy place to be,” Condon said.
“Research shows the people you hang around affect your mood. Debbie Downers suck your energy, but you don’t find that at dance studios. Music uplifts your soul. You learn to move in sync with another person and it reminds us of being rocked in the womb. It’s sublime.
“You don’t think about your feet or your body; you just feel every slight shift in weight. Long-standing married couples have rekindled their relationships through dance. Dancing also is phenomenal for the brain.”
Condon said dancing is not only for the young, slim, and athletic.
“If you can walk, you can dance”—even at age 98, like one of Condon’s new friends at her dance studio.
“I took up dancing late in life,” said Condon, who is now 71. “I did a lot of research. Dancing confers more protection against dementia than any other activity.”
According to a 20-year longitudinal study on people in their 70s, dancing had the highest degree of protection for their cognition. It was higher than chess, board games, walking, golf, or tennis.
“While dancing, the aerobic exercise is pumping blood to the brain, and it keeps you thinking where your body is in space, processing the music and processing where your partner’s body is located. Dancing puts a demand on your brain and you form new neurons.”
Dancing also could fit into anyone’s budget. You don’t have to dance at a franchise studio. There are dance clubs around the area that are inexpensive because they rent their studios from fire halls, she said.
Thinner, Fitter, Happier: Dancing Will Change Your Life! is available through http://thinnerfitterhappier.drmariancondon.com and Amazon.com.
Condon also can be contacted on her Facebook page or on her website (www.doctormariancondon.com).