As a lifelong dancer, Debbie Allen knows all about the aches and pains that come with getting older.
But these painful maladies shouldn't distract us from making sure the body's most important muscle is moving and grooving as much as it should.
"I don't know if people are paying enough attention to what's going on with their hearts," says the "Grey's Anatomy" actress and director of a new BET show filming now in Atlanta.
Allen, 63, comes to Tampa this month as part of a national heart education tour for seniors dubbed "Join the Pace Makers." She got involved after a close friend got a pacemaker, the most common surgical solution for slow heart beats.
Too many adults accept slowing down as they age, and don't realize it can be treated, says Allen, who will be at the free event that features workshops and group dance lessons.
"Our elders are the most valuable resource on the planet … so we have to take care of them," she says.
Normal hearts slow down about one beat per minute per year, says James Irwin, a cardiologist and electrophysiologist with Bay Heart Group in Tampa. That makes it harder to notice the changes, he says.
About 15 percent of adult men and 7 percent of adult women have a resting heart rate of 60 beats a minute or less, the criteria for the condition known as bradycardia, the National Center for Health Statistics reports.
"If you're tired and weak and your resting heart rate is 70, you're good. If it's at 40, we need to talk," Irwin says.
He suggests seniors compare their physical activity level to five years ago. If you're unable to do the same things because of fatigue or shortened breath, you may want to talk to your doctor about testing your heart rate.
Pacemakers are a common treatment option, Irwin says, but cardiologists also will consider how medications such as beta blockers affect heart rates, or other related conditions, such as hypothyroidism.
"We only have one life. I would rather have you out on the dance floor or on the golf course," says Irwin, who serves as an adviser and trainer for Medtronic's, a pacemaker manufacturer and sponsor of the March 18 "Join the Pace Makers" event. The website is JointhePaceMakers.com.
Allen, who is joining the tour in five cities including the Tampa stop at the Town 'N Country Senior Center, says she loves incorporating her love for dancing with the education campaign.
She loves the stops and taking a spin on the dance floor with older hoofers, who "know more than the boys today," she says. She says she's looking forward to see how Tampa's seniors get their groove on.
"Let's go for it," she laughs. "I'm ready."
IF YOU GO
"Join the Pace Makers" event featuring Debbie Allen will be held March 18, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Town 'N Country Senior Center. Advanced registration is required for the free event. Call Lori Radice at (813) 873-6336.