If you hate to exercise, you’ve gotta read this!

Put down that barbell and head to the ballroom.

Ditch the sneakers and put on your best pair of smooth-soled shoes.

Get off that elliptical trainer and get ready to do the salsa, a foxtrot or a waltz.

You’re going dancing.

Regardless of your sex, generation or fitness level, hitting the dance floor is a great way to get moving.

“It’s better than going to the gym or taking up a new sport because it’s easy, it’s simple and it’s fun,” says Dr. Rita Beckford, a family physician and creator of the fitness video Home With Dr. B. She is medical director of the urgent-care center at the Twinsburg (Ohio) Medical Center.

“Research over the past 10 to 15 years has found that exercise only works if it’s done consistently. So if people are happy and they enjoy what they’re doing, they tend to stick with it much longer than just picking up an activity for the benefit of exercise,” she says.

The U. S. Department of Agriculture considers dancing a moderate physical activity, like walking briskly, golfing (walking and carrying clubs) and bicycling faster than 10 mph. The recommendation for general health is at least 30 minutes of this type of activity a day.

Wanda Deagen, who has been teaching ballroom dance since 1984, says even the most basic elements of dance can contribute to physical fitness.

“In ballroom dancing, it’s all about form, so you’re holding your body and your core so that you have your abdominals tucked under and you’re dancing with a nice long back,” Deagen says. “All of the things that are good for your body posture-wise, stretching-wise, those are all the basics in dance.”

Ballroom dancing, like most dance, is usually a low-impact exercise and provides the same kind of benefits as low-impact aerobics, Beckford says. Other disciplines, including hip-hop with its jumps and turns, are high-impact.

“Regardless of the type of dance, you’ll get benefits like an increase in flexibility, strength training and fat burning,” says Beckford, who lost 80 pounds with a program that included an hour of cardio dance five days a week.

“The more intense and high impact, you’re probably going to build more muscles, you’ll burn more calories. But even with low impact dance, the benefits in your bones are still going to be there, the impact on reducing your blood pressure is there.”

Dance is good not only for the body, it’s good for the mind as well.

A study reported in the June 2003 New England Journal of Medicine found that elderly people who engaged in activities such as dancing lowered their risk for dementia.

About half the fitness clubs that are members of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association offer dance-based classes. One reason for the popularity of these classes is that dance doesn’t feel like work, says Elsa Williams, the group fitness coordinator at the Concord Athletic Club in San Antonio.

“With dancing, the perceived exertion is less than a boot-camp class where you might be working just as hard,” she explains. “It’s pleasurable, and the mood is completely different from a typical fitness class.”

There is also a social component to dancing that can be missing from other activities.

“You’re not only interacting with your partner, but you’re interacting with other dancers,” says Deagen. “Many people after a divorce or the death of a spouse will start dancing.”

And because it can be completely non-competitive, dance can be an enjoyable, healthy and creative outlet for children who aren’t interested in sports.