Cold weather deterring your thoughts of keeping up with your regular swimming? Need to find a great cross-training activity that gives your joints a break from daily running? Consider the possibility of dancing!
Not only has dancing grown in cultural popularity with long-standing shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars lasting season after season, but its variety and accessibility is almost incomparable. Dance/fitness combinations like Zumba have been burning up the gym floor for years, while Jazzercize dates all the way back to 1969!
Types of Dance
One of the greatest compliments of dance is the variety of styles it offers. These include:
- Ballet – this stricter discipline of dance is often practiced from a young age, however, adults have found success with ballet-inspired fitness programs like PureBarre in recent years.
- Ballroom Dancing – partner dancing in classical ballroom styles like waltz, cha cha, salsa, or tango engages people of all ages and taps into myriad cultures and ethnic histories.
- Square Dancing – call and response group and partner dancing like square dancing is most popular in southern tradition and often featured at community fairs and live events.
- Jazz and Contemporary – these styles of dance incorporates many styles including the legwork of ballet and musicality of ballroom dancing.
- Hip-hop – a dance style derived from urban roots, hip-hop is most often practiced and performed to hip-hop music and can involve breaking, locking, popping, and freestyle.
- Tap Dancing/Clogging – dance styles where single or double taps are adhered to the bottom of the shoes results in a clickity clackity leg workout.
- Swing Dancing – originating in 1920’s Harlem as an accompanying dance to swing jazz music, swing style dancing might include Jitterbug, Lindy Hop, and Shag dances.
- Pole Dancing – dance and acrobatics that require the strength of holding on to, hanging off of, and twirling on a fixed pole have become a fitness trend of late as well.
Health Benefits of Dancing
When searching out new low-impact fitness activities that benefit your health, you’re often going to check off the boxes cardio workout, strength training, etc. Dancing has that and so much more to offer. Health benefits include:
- Improves Heart and Lung Health : The aerobic workout many types of dance offer helps to strengthen heart and lung muscles which can prevent chronic illness like heart disease down the line. The harder your heart beats and the harder you breathe, the greater the workout for your cardiovascular system. A stronger heart can pump blood around the body with less effort, also helping lower risk for high blood pressure and stroke.
- Boosts Cognitive Health: Would you believe that dancing has been used to help treat people battling Parkinson’s? Or that studies have shown it can aid memory? The unique aspect of dance when it comes to brain health is that “dance learning” actually engages four major regions of the brain including the motor cortex, basal ganglia, somatosensory cortex, and cerebellum. A 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that of many different leisure activities enjoyed by the elderly (like golf, tennis, cycling), only dancing was associated with a lowered risk of dementia.
- Encourages Social Interaction: Dancing as a social activity, either partner or group dancing, adds a critical component to this fun and health-boosting activity. From stress relief to improving mood and outlook, social engagement serves a handful of purposes, but did you know it reinforces strong brain health too? Conversations and interaction with other humans, as well as learning new names and forming new relationships helps to reinforce neural pathways in the brain, making sure your your brain cells communicate more successfully into old age.
- Strengthens Muscles and Endurance: Motor fitness activities like dancing help strengthen and tone key muscle groups, from the legs to the core, back, and even arms. While the moderate to high-intensity movement makes you break a sweat and burn calories, it also helps muscles grow. Exercise causes microscopic tears in crucial muscle tissue whereupon the body goes about sending special cells to rebuild the proteins which strengthens and enlarges the muscle tissue. Muscle burns calories faster than fat, and fortifies your movements so you can spend more energy without getting as exhausted.
- Increases Balance and Spatial Awareness: The coordination required with dancing, from partner to solo dancing, promotes much-needed agility while honing important balance skills. Especially beneficial to older adults, preventing debilitating falls is the key to longevity and retaining mobility. While this might include home upgrades like installing suction grab bars in the shower or railings by staircases, turns out exercise that strengthens an older adult’s agility and spatial awareness is just as helpful!
- Boosts Self-Confidence: One of the best things about dance as a fitness activity is that it also serves as a form of art. Grace, rhythm, movement, breath, telling a story . . . all of these aspects to dance make it a way for someone to grow their confidence and self-esteem. The added bonus of feeling healthier, more coordinated, more socially engaged, and potentially even losing weight and toning muscles adds that confidence boost many people need to stay motivated to keep working at it.
- Enhances Flexibility: The warm-up, stretching, twisting, reaching, and so forth of dancing helps to lubricate and loosen joints as well as lengthen and strengthen muscles. Tight, stiff muscles and joints contribute to inflammation, aches and pains that accompany everything from aging to injury recovery. Boosting the muscle’s pliability with flexible body positions and routine exercise dancing may help prevent injury and optimize coordination. People with neuro muscular difficulties stemming from diseases like autism have been shown to improve their coordination, like was seen in this small 2013 study out of Greece.
- Alleviates Stress: Dancing is one of those activities that is considered a double pleasure presenter for the brain because it involves both physical movement and listening to music. The Journal of Applied Gerontology found that partner dancing to music helps alleviate stress and boost serotonin levels. Not only can you leave your worries behind by focusing on leading or following your partner, but music as therapy and exercise as a mood booster helps to imbue a positive mindset and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Similar to low-impact exercises like yoga or tai chi, dancing can be modified for different age groups, mobility levels, and health conditions. Look for opportunities to dance by searching local gyms and dance studios for classes that fit your interests and schedule. Or consider joining a dance-enthusiasts Meetup group that holds gatherings and events which afford you the opportunity to get your jig on.