Health & Fitness: Let’s Dance!

Health & Fitness: Aspria’s Kate Cracknell offers five good reasons why you need to dance.
Dancing isn’t just good fun. Male or female, young or old – or somewhere in between! – it also has huge benefits for your health and wellbeing. It can be easy to think of dancing as just a bit of fun – not to mention something we do less and less of as we get older. Nightclubs? No thanks. Maybe just the very occasional half- hour on the dance floor at a wedding. And that’s a shame, because there are huge health benefits to be had from dancing…

#1: Dancing keeps you in shape: Think you have to pound the treadmill to burn calories and shed fat? Not so. When you dance, you can burn up to 300 calories an hour – and that’s about the same, if not more, than the amount of energy you burn during an easy run or swim. The impact on your fitness levels is comparable too: a 2007 study found that eight weeks of aerobic dance-based exercise, or eight weeks of jogging or walking, both led to significant fitness gains compared to a control group. It’s not just cardio either: dancing also develops strength, tones and conditions your body, and improves balance, flexibility and mobility. Which brings us to the next reason why dance is great for your body…

#2: Dancing keeps you mobile: Dancing keeps your body supple, flexible, moving well – and all of this with a lower risk of injury than other forms of exercise, as it’s generally pretty low impact. As a highly functional form of movement – moving in every plane of motion, and with lots of side-to-side moves activating the smaller muscle groups – it also improves balance, posture, flexibility and co-ordination. And that’s vitally important, particularly as we age. In a recent German study, one group took part in 18 months of weekly endurance and flexibility training; the other group learned dance routines. Only the dance group experienced noticeable physical changes such as improved balance.

#3: Dancing keeps your brain young: Dancing also keeps your brain firing on all cylinders as you age. Of course, most forms of exercise can help slow age-related decline: in the German study mentioned above, both groups saw positive responses in their hippocampus – the region of the brain responsible for memory, learning and balance, and the one most affected by age-related decline. However, American researchers recently linked dancing specifically to improved “white matter integrity” in the brains of older adults – the connective tissue within the brain that tends to break down gradually as we age, leading to cognitive impairment and memory problems.

In the study, participants were assigned to one of three activities: brisk walking, stretching and balance training, or dance classes. At the end of the study, brain scans were done on all participants and compared with scans taken before the activities began. The dancers fared better than the other groups, with less deterioration in their brains.

#4: Dancing makes you feel good: Dancing triggers the release of endorphins, which in turn boosts your mood. Add to that the fun, social element of dance and it’s clear there are feel-good benefits here for everyone. But it goes deeper than this – and this is great news for anyone with teenage daughters. A study by the American Medical Association found that adolescent girls had more positive thoughts and felt more confident after dancing – and in particular, after structured dance classes that focused on simply enjoying the movement, rather than on perfection or performance.

There’s even evidence to support the use of dance as a therapeutic tool. Research dating back to the 1980s supports the idea that dancing can curb anxiety, while a Korean study of adolescents suffering from depression found that young people who engaged in dance movement therapy reported significantly reduced psychological distress.

#5: Dancing builds friendships: Dancing with someone else activates areas of the brain that stimulate a sense of oneness and connection – something scientists call ‘self-other merging’. There’s also growing consensus that simply touching another person – whether it’s through massage, holding hands or dancing with someone – reduces stress and anxiety and improves overall wellbeing. Dancing with someone else is, as a Time Magazine journalist once observed, “like exercise and a hug rolled together”.

Would you care to dance? Of course, different forms of dancing will appeal to different people – and the good news is that your Aspria class timetable offers a variety of different dance styles. Want to get lost in the rhythm? Try Zumba, Salsa or Jazz. Interested in muscle tone, stretching and conditioning? Ballet may be more your style. Feel you’re too old for all of this? Not in the slightest: with classes at Aspria Royal La Rasante such as Zumba Gold on the schedule, you’re never too old to enjoy the benefits of dance.

Whoever you are, and whatever your wellbeing goals, it seems dance has something to offer everyone. It’s time to put on those dancing shoes!