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Dr Sara Houston awarded prestigious Vitality for Life Prize

Story Posted: 11 November 2011

Dr Sara Houston awarded prestigious Vitality for Life Prize

The University of Roehampton's Dr Sara Houston has been awarded the Bupa Foundation's prestigious Vitality for Life Prize for her groundbreaking research demonstrating how dance helps alleviate the devastating effects of Parkinson’s.  The research examined the benefits to quality of life for people with Parkinson’s taking part in dance classes run by English National Ballet.  The award-winning research demonstrated how dancing can positively affect well-being, physical movement and social integration for those living with the debilitating condition. 

Dr Houston was honoured at the annual Bupa Foundation Prize Dinner, for her research into the incurable degenerative condition, which affects 120,000 people in the UK and two out of 100 people over 65.  Physical symptoms can include tremor, slow movement and stiff limbs.  Since there is currently no cure, people can live with the disease for up to 30 years, making it even more important that ways are found to improve their quality of life.

Importantly, the research demonstrated the added value that dance as an art form can bring to exercise routines.  Dr. Houston and her research team from the Dance Department at University of Roehampton examined English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s classes over 12 weeks using ethnographic and scientific research methods.  They demonstrated how dancing boosts physical and social confidence, as well as encouraging more fluid and comfortable movement.

Each year the Bupa Foundation gives out a number of awards to recognise excellence in medical research and health care.  The Vitality for Life Prize was given to Dr Houston for outstanding research that enabled the promotion and encouragement of healthy ageing through physical activity and other social solutions for the older age group.  

On winning the award, Dr Sara Houston, said: “It is tremendously exciting to win such a prestigious award.  It signals the importance of dance research, of the seriousness behind having fun.  For people with Parkinson’s, dancing offers a physical, creative and social outlet that addresses healthy living in a holistic way.  The Prize is a real boost to dance’s acceptance as a credible alternative to straightforward exercising.”

Bupa’s group medical director and deputy chairman of the Bupa Foundation, Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, said: “There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, so sufferers can live with the condition for up to 30 years. Dance is always a joyous and sociable activity, but Dr Houston and the English National Ballet have proven that it can also tangibly improve lives. The Bupa Foundation is delighted to recognise this groundbreaking research which we hope will improve the quality of life for people in the UK and beyond.”

The research was so successful English National Ballet extended the dance programme.  The University of Roehampton is now embarking on a second phase of research in partnership with English National Ballet to look at the experience of dancing with Parkinson’s long term over three years.

Dr Sara Houston received the Bupa Foundation Prize at a ceremony at Lincoln’s Inn in London on the evening of 10 November 2011.  She received a cheque of £15,000 to help further her research.