If I asked you to a form of physical activity the body, mind and soul supports invent, you’d be hard pressed to come up with something better than dancing. Let me start by saying that I’m not a dancer. When I dance, the only advantage that I know is laughing, that it incites in others. It’s just not something that comes naturally to me. But that’s really beside the point. There are very good reasons to consider taking dance in your life. Strange as it may seem, scientists from around the world ask their patients to raise their dancing shoes.
First, let’s put aside all existing views that we have about dance, including the general assumption that the non-professional dancing is not a serious effort. It certainly is! A large part of the advantages of the dance takes place between the ears. The combination of choreography and rhythmic movement, human touch, musical stimulation and social interaction in the brains literally light with electrical and neurochemical activity. Parts of the brains that rarely get mentioned, such as the amygdala, anterior cerebellar vermis, cingulate cortex and the medial superior parietal lobule are just some of the mysterious regions which are activated simply by our bodies in movement to music. Powerful chemicals with names such as endorphins, dopamine and endocannabinoids are let loose. These unique substances help to raise our minds and feelings of pain relief, among other things. (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
The study of the physical benefits of dance is perhaps even more impressive. Recent studies have shown that dancing is a particularly effective way of improving cardiovascular health, physical fitness and weight management. The best news about this line of research is that scientists from around the world think that all manifestations of this art form is comparable to or better than most standard exercises such as walking. In addition, there is some evidence that the dancers in a lower mortality compared to that involved in conventional practice suggests more. (8,9,10,11)
One area that a large part of the medical attention received as of late is the effect of dancing on the senior population. A study in the July issue of the journal Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics divided a group of 111 seniors in two sections. Half of the men and women participated in 23 dance sessions over a period of 12 weeks. The rest of the group, did not alter their normal weekly routines. The dancers showed improvements in some measures of physical fitness including positive changes in the balance, endurance, flexibility, resting heart rate, strength and speed. The researchers also found a boost in mental health and reduce the perception of “physical pain”. Other studies, such as a jazz dance class 15 weeks and 10 weeks Argentine tango dance program, also demonstrated benefits in balance, more confidence and a reduction of falls. (12,13,14,15,16)
Improving the balance not only promotes a better quality of life, but also reduces the destructive and immobilizing effects of bone fractures in the elderly population. A 2007 study in the journal Osteoporosis International presents an additional reason to dance for joy. In that trial, 45 postmenopausal women who practiced a modified form of line dancing proved a bone preserving effect in the lower extremities. (17)
Another attractive aspect of this form of exercise is that it provides for cultural considerations. Some scientists believe that the most prudent use of region-specific forms of dance, the probability of long-term health benefits and to improve compliance in virtually every population that has been explored. Here are a few examples that probably would apply all over the world:
- Turkish Folk Dance - A study of 40 older women from Turkey have shown that a folkloric dance-based training “excellent results with regard to the balance, physical performance and quality of life is sought. (18)
- Latina Aerobic Dance - A “community-based, culturally tailored exercise intervention” using aerobic dance led to significant changes in cardiorespiratory fitness in a group of Latina women with ages ranging from 18 – 55. (19)
- African American Church Dance - 126 African American women participated in twice weekly dance sessions in churches more than 8 weeks. There was an improvement “functional capacity” in the studied women who were aged 36-82. (20)
- Hip Hop and Line Dancing - A study of young adults living in South Korea showed that hip hop dancing, brought more feelings of “positive welfare”, lower levels of “psychological distress” and fatigue than aerobic exercise, body conditioning and skating. A scientific study of older women in South Africa described the profound impact of the line dance in their culture. One woman noted that “life without line dancing … – would be too horrible to imagine.” The author of that paper concluded that “clearly the impact of line dancing goes beyond the alleged physical benefits.” (21,22)
Our bodies are designed to move, not sit and watch endless hours of TV. Without a variety of interactive, sensory stimulation and constant challenges, the bored and dysfunctional brains. Social isolation and lack of human contact is just as dangerous, if not more, than any type of nutritional deficiencies known to science. So why not get out there and take a dance class or two? Join a cultural or social group and move your body to the beat. Dance is seriously good for you, but you do not need to be taken seriously. Have fun! Laugh and share the experience with others. It could be your life and your health.