Fitness on the Dance Floor: Moving Your Body Is More Than Good Times
By Martha Michael
When you hear Lee Ann Womack sing “I Hope You Dance,” the lyrics remind you about the power of engagement and the value in living a full life. Dancing can inspire people in many ways, but it also has demonstrable physical and psychological benefits.
It’s Good for Your Body
When you create a fitness plan you typically think about sports or weight training, but even football players sometimes enroll in ballet classes. Like other forms of movement, dancing can provide you with the physical conditioning you need by engaging various parts of your body and raising your heart rate.
Burning calories isn’t the only reason to dance, but if it’s replacing your traditional fitness program it’s information you should have. The website Burned-calories.com has an online calculator where you can fill in your weight to find out how much heat energy you burn when you practice a particular sport or dance.
In a one-hour session for a person weighing 150 pounds, the calculator offers the following totals of calories burned:
- Ballet (357)
- Ballroom dancing (236)
- Country/western dancing (343)
- Folk dancing (343)
- Hip hop dancing (414)
- Salsa dancing (286)
- Swing and disco dancing (414)
- Tap dancing (329)
The exercise you get by moving your body is almost always beneficial, but an article by the Better Health Channel offers a list of specific health benefits when you make dancing a part of your lifestyle:
Stronger bones - Reducing the onset of osteoporosis is a worthy goal, particularly for older adults.
Heart and lung health - Like other forms of exercise, cardio activities improve the function of your heart and lungs through conditioning.
Muscle tone - Depending on the style you choose, some dances increase muscles in your arms, legs and back.
Endurance - When dancing for long periods of time you steadily increase your stamina.
Coordination - Dancing involves a coordinated effort by your arms, legs, feet and torso.
Clearly, dancing has a lot of benefits that are good for your body and general fitness.
It’s Good for Your Mind
Most people recognize the emotional lift you can get from a dance party or spending date night at a dance class. But there’s more going on than meets the eye. While a dancer is concentrating on footwork and choreographed hand motions, the physical act of dancing is simultaneously improving their brain function, says an article in Psychology Today.
Research monitoring the brains of professional dancers watching a dance performance shows that when the music changes, their brains react to it rapidly and reflexively, even before they’re consciously aware of it. Theta brain waves sync the cerebral cortex with deeper brain areas such as the hippocampus, which is associated with memory and emotion.
One study shows that listening to popular dance music activates the cerebellum more intensely in those who love to dance. The cerebellum integrates information from the senses making movements precise and maintaining rhythm. Neuroscience research on individuals with damage to the cerebellum shows that partnered dance training can bring notable improvement to their balance, gait, and functional mobility.
Dancing with friends or partners offers an obvious social benefit, but studies of the brain show that moving to music also creates a synchronicity between dancers. They end up on the same frequency creating a collaboration of movement between them.
“Brain synchronization enables seamless cooperation and is necessary for creating both harmonic music and movement,” says Hanna Poikonen of the Cognitive Brain Research Unit at the University of Helsinki. “The ability to become attuned to another person’s brain frequency is essential for the function of any empathetic community.”
As nightclubs and bars reopen after the pandemic restrictions, individuals are deciding whether it’s safe to join the masses in public spaces. If dancing is your favorite form of exercise but you’re daunted by the prospect of possibly spreading the virus through such close contact, you can try another form such as spatially distant line dancing.
Luckily, dancing is one of the most flexible activities you can find. You can do it anywhere you’re allowed and if it doesn’t interest you to join thousands of people at a concert venue you can practice dancing solo at home or get your family involved.
Unless you’re a ballerina or you practice high-intensity modern dance moves, it’s not difficult to do and it doesn’t strain your body. There are many ways to begin learning -- through online courses, college classes or at a local studio. Or you can just dance at home like nobody’s watching.
Regardless of your age, you should consider some form of exercise. If you’ve never favored gym workouts, weightlifting, or sports, perhaps dancing will motivate you to move. All it takes is a decision -- “when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,” Womack’s song suggests, choose the latter.
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