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Do-Si-Do Fitness

July 9, 2001 -- "Bow to your partner, bow to your corner, circle left, alemand left ... swing and promenade home."

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In squares of eight across the country, Americans from senior-citizen age on down are linking arms, sashaying, and "do-si-doing" themselves to longer, healthier, and happier lives. They're having a blast and also lowering their risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, age-related memory loss, osteoporosis, and depression.

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Good for Body and Mind

With all its moving, twisting, and turning, square dancing provides more than the daily dose of heart- and bone-healthy physical activity. Remembering all the calls -- from "do-si-do" to 'alemand' -- keeps the mind sharp, potentially staving off age-related memory loss, experts say. And the companionship that regular square dancing offers is an antidote to depression and loneliness, a statement confirmed by square-dancing advocates everywhere.

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Take Larry McKinley, a 62-year-old who has been square dancing for 30-plus years with his wife, Sue -- who, incidentally, he met at a square dance. "We do it as often as we can, maybe five or six times a week," he tells WebMD.

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"The listening -- and executing the commands -- takes deep concentration. The twisting and turning are not too hard on you, but give your body the exercise that it needs," he says.

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McKinley's club, the London Bridge Square Dance Club of Lake Havasu, Ariz., has 80 members, and the average age of a member is 75.

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"We recently graduated an 84-year-old," he says. "Graduated," in square-dancing terms, means the student has earned a Mainstream dance level.

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There are four levels of square dancing, McKinley tells WebMD. There's Mainstream, then there's Plus, followed by the more professional, exhibition-levels, A-1 and A-2. McKinley is a Plus-level square dancer.

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"It's very easy once you learn," he says. "Years ago, I was getting a divorce and didn't want to be a bump on a barstool." That's when he went to his first dance and got hooked.

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"It's just so much fun. Square dancing is setting friendship to music," he says. "It's having a place to get up and go in the evening where you can work up a good tired and a good sweat."

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