Patients often ask me, “what is the best form of exercise?”. The answer I usually give is “The kind you enjoy”. My reasoning is, if you enjoy doing something then it is far more likely you will find the time to do it – an opinion supported by research1. So, if the gym isn’t your cup of tea, you don’t fancy a jog around the neighbourhood or it’s too cold for a swim – have you thought about dance as a form of exercise? Enjoyment is merely one reason to dance – once you hear about all the health benefits of dance, you’ll be shimmying back for more!
Dancing is great for fitness
Dance as exercise really is the allrounder when it comes to physical health benefits2. Studies show dance classes are as good for you, if not better, than other forms of structured exercise3. With so many types of dance available, you’re almost certain to find one you’ll enjoy. You can begin dancing at almost any age, so whether you’re 5 or 95, interested in ballet or belly-dancing, tap or tango, read on and see how dancing can help improve your health and wellness!
Most of us know that physical activity and getting our heart pumping can help improve the function of our heart and lungs. The Australian government guidelines for exercise recommends adults participate in 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity (you can talk but not sing during the activity) or 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hour of vigorous activity (can’t say more than a few words without stopping for breath) each week4. A US intergenerational program showed both children and adults can reach their target heart rates through dance5. By incorporating ballet classes or line dancing lessons a couple of times a week and enjoying the petite allegro or Boot Scootin’ Boogie, you can gain the wonderful heart-pumping benefits that dancing can provide6.
Muscle strength and endurance
Ever admired the toned legs of a ballet dancer or the stamina of couples competing on dance tv shows? You too can enjoy strengthening your lower limbs and improve your endurance by attending regular dance classes. Studies show that regardless of the type of dance, if you attend 3 hour-long classes a week, you’ll likely develop stronger legs and improved endurance in just 12 weeks7.
Balance and posture
Most everyday activity, such as walking, has us travelling in fairly straight lines without too much change in the level of our heads. Even when you’re at the gym – be it on a treadmill, stair climber or stationary bike – your movement is fairly limited. Dance on the other hand has us moving in all directions – forward, backward, sideways – often covering a lot of area. In addition to moving more in all directions, dancing often includes turns, jumps and sometimes even floor work. When you’re performing that tango turn or jazz pirouette, you’ll be challenging your balance and dynamic postural control. This makes most forms of dancing ideal for improving our balance, and helping reduce the risk of falls, particularly as we age7,8,9.
Mobility and flexibility
We know that staying active and moving the joints is beneficial to joint health but there is some perception that dancing, particularly ballet, can lead to wear and tear on the hips. This has not proven to be the case with an Australian study showing no difference in hip joint changes between professional ballet dancers and other athletes10. In fact, movement of the limbs during dance can help maintain flexibility, strengthen joint supporting muscles and keep the joints healthy9. Dance lessons have also been shown to help people with mobility issues, such as those with Parkinson’s disease. Recent research revealed regular dance classes improved the functional ability of people with Parkinson’s making it easier for them to move and get around11.
Dancing engages the brain and has “feel good” benefits
Not only do we see physical benefits in those who regularly participate in dance lessons, but dance can also give your brain a boost and improve your emotional wellbeing.
Memory and attention
If you’ve already attended a dance class, you’ll know how challenging remembering the combination of steps and movements can be. Perhaps you’ve also marvelled at more experienced classmates and their ability to pick up steps quickly or remember the choreography. Learning a dance sequence is like doing mental push-ups or a physical crossword for the brain, and the more you dance the better you’ll become. Challenging the brain to remember the steps and putting them all together in movement improves our “brain plasticity” and helps build our grey and white matter. In fact, dancing improves our brains function much better than conventional exercise and can help stave off age-related mental impairments like poor memory and attention12.
Mental health and social connection
While those of us getting older will be especially keen on the mobility and memory benefits that dancing provides, there are also emotional benefits for people of all ages. Dancing can be a great way for adolescents (or people of any age) to deal with emotional distress.
A recent study found that teenage girls showed less nervousness, anxiety and and even reported less headaches and stomach aches while attending regular dance classes13. Other studies have show similar benefits; A 12 week dance course lowered depression in a group of university students14 and a group of 60 – 82 year old’s reported improved social activities and networks through dance classes15. Regardless of dance style, people of all ages and cultural groups report a greater sense of happiness, social connectedness and life satisfaction through dance participation15.
Dance is great, whatever your age
Now that you know dancing can significantly improve balance, strength, endurance, mobility, memory and wellbeing, why not take a look to see what dance classes are available near you? Many dance schools offer classes for all ages including beginner classes for adults or those returning after a long hiatus. So grab a friend, sign up for a class and get moving!
(And if you’re isolating – there’s never been a better time to dance like nobody’s watching!)