Dancing can get your heart pumping as well as a treadmill but it will do even more, especially if you get out on a dance floor rather than going to a hip-hop, salsa or other dance-style aerobics class in a gym. In addition to toning muscles and staying in shape aerobically, ballroom dancers of all skill levels report feeling less stressed, having a more positive outlook on life, sleeping better, being more flexible, having more energy, being more alert mentally, and getting along better with other people. And you don’t have to dance with the stars, become competitive or go through a dance boot camp to benefit.
“People forget how much fun it is to go out and move to music with other people,” says Judy Gantz, founder and director of the Center for Movement Education and Research in Los Angeles and a faculty member at the University of California Los Angeles; “And dance requires somewhat complex coordination so it enhances your brain.”
Researchers Identify Surprising Benefits
At the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY, researchers examined how exercise influences the risk of dementia by tracking 469 people over the age of 75 for a period of 5 years. They found that dancing was associated with a lower risk of dementia, while swimming, bicycling, participating in group exercises, playing team games such as bowling, walking for exercise, climbing stairs or doing housework did not offer the same benefit.
Other studies have shown some unexpected ways in which dance benefits people of different ages:
* At the University of California Irvine, medical students who took art and dance classes were better able to observe and empathize with their patients.
* In Sweden, elite cross-country skiers who did pre-season dance training experienced less back pain from skiing.
* In a Korean study, depressed teens experienced relief from dance therapy, and had measurably higher levels of serotonin.
* In Connecticut, breast cancer survivors who took part in a 12-week therapeutic dance program at a medical center in Meriden improved their quality of life.
Calories Burn Fast
Aerobically speaking, dance matches many grunt-and-groan activities. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, based in Rochester, MN, have estimated that dancing can burn 200 to 400 calories in 30 minutes and an evening of square dancing can equate to walking five miles. In addition, side-to-side dance movements help to prevent osteoporosis by strengthening weight-bearing bones.
During the past few years, as dance-oriented television shows and movies have gained fans, people have been discovering ballroom dancing at a younger age. The national chain of Arthur Murray dance studios, going strong since 1912, is seeing more people in their twenties who want to prepare for a wedding or master Latin moves. Their students, more than 10,000 people per week, also include couples of all ages who dance for fun, and high-powered professionals who find that a dance floor relieves stress better than a gym.
Competitive dance, known as DanceSport, is recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee and popularity of both the sport and social dancing is growing dramatically. More than 300 colleges in the United States, including Ivy League schools, offer ballroom dance programs.
Where to Learn
Commercial dance schools aren’t the only places where you can hone your moves — universities, community colleges and community groups offer low-cost classes and events around the country. Information about social and competitive dancing is also available from the United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association (www.usabda.org), which has grown from 12 local chapters in 1986 to more than 150 today.
“Motivation plays a huge part in staying active,” says Gantz, “And there’s a joy, when you work with music and other people, that is highly involving and motivating.”
About The Author
Vera Tweed is a veteran health journalist and the editor of http://www.HealthyTricks.com, an online newsletter that makes a healthy lifestyle more convenient, enjoyable and attainable.