The Many Health Benefits of Dancing

Dancing is becoming one of America’s favorite pastimes nowadays. There is even National Dance Day, which was started in 2010 to “encourage Americans to embrace it as a fun and positive way to maintain health and fight obesity.”

Dancing provides physical, psychological, and social benefits galore, so put on your dancing shoes and follow along.

Better balance, improved mood

Many studies have found that dancing can improve balance, even in frail elderly people. Some have shown improvements in gait, walking speed, and reaction time, as well as cognitive and fine motor performance. Dance studies have included jazz, ballroom, tango, folk, and a series of slow, low-impact dance movements—though any kind of dancing would likely be beneficial.

Interestingly, according to a review in the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine in 2009, dancing may help people with Parkinson’s disease. This is because is characterized by rigid muscles, slowed movement, and impaired balance.

Dancing may also be good for your mood. It has been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress and boost self-esteem, body image, coping ability, and overall sense of well-being, with the benefits lasting over time. In one study, it even helped control “emotional eating” in obese women who eat as a response to stress.

The authors of a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of dance movement therapy concluded that dancing should be encouraged. This is especially as a part of treatment for people with depression and anxiety.

Though other forms of exercise can have many of the same benefits, dancing is more appealing to some people, so they are more likely to stick with it.

Scientist made a study regarding comparison between tango class and mindfulness meditation. It showed that 97% of participants chose to receive a voucher for a tango class rather than one for mindfulness meditation. (By the way, the study found that both activities reduced depression, but only dancing reduced stress). In another study, attendance was higher with waltzing than conventional exercise. This is possibly because dance is a form of exercise in which movement, social interaction, and fun are mixed together.

Dancing for heart health and weight control

If dancing gets your heart rate up, it can be a good form of aerobic exercise. One study even found that in people with stable chronic heart failure, slow-fast (interval) waltzing improved heart and blood vessel function. It provided better overall quality of life as much as a moderate aerobic exercise program did.

On average, a 150-pound person burns about 240 calories per hour when dancing. But the numbers vary a lot, from less than 200 calories per hour for slow dances like tango to about 350 calories for faster dancing like swing. And more than 500 calories for step aerobics dancing. Of course, for the more active dances you probably won’t dance a full hour.

Put on your dancing shoes

Because there are so many different types of dance, you should be able to find a style that suits you. This is in terms of intensity, difficulty level, type of music you like, and whether you prefer to dance with or without a partner.

If you want an upbeat, calorie-burning style, you can try tap or swing, for example. If you want something more reserved, there is tango.

Foxtrot is a good choice for beginners; quickstep for more advanced dancers.

If you like your dancing more spicy, why not try salsa or mambo? Want to dance with passion? Flamenco may be your calling. If group dancing appeals to you, there is line and folk dancing.

In addition to dance studios that give individual and group lessons, many gyms have dance-fitness classes like Zumba that combine dance and aerobics; some incorporate styles like hip hop, Bollywood, and ballet along with Pilates or other core exercises. You can also search online for a variety of dance events in your area, sponsored by different dance groups or dance schools. In many cities, for example, you can find nightly salsa social dances, tango “milongas,” and swing “meetups.”

If you prefer to dance at home, there are videos and Wii Fit dance games. Or you can just crank up your own music and do your own thing.

Many hospitals, rehab facilities, and community centers offer dance therapy. One is Healthy-Steps (gohealthysteps.com), which incorporates the Lebed Method, a movement program originally developed for cancer patients. Another program, Dance for PD (danceforparkinsons.org), offers classes for people with Parkinson’s disease that integrate movements from traditional and modern dance; they are taught by trained dancers and accompanied by live music.

Bottom line:

There’s no downside to incorporating dance into your regular physical activity routine. It could help motivate you to get moving if you find other types of workouts. Those include treadmill walking or cycling, a little boring. People with medical conditions such as heart disease, Parkinson’s, arthritis, and vision impairment may benefit—after they get their doctor’s okay in some cases.

Don’t overlook the social benefits. Dancing is a great way to spend quality time with a partner or meet new people if you don’t have one.

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