In Part One of this three-part series, Why Dancing is So Good for You, you learned about some of the benefits of dancing, particularly for your brain. In case you missed it, you can read it here: Dancing Helps Reverse Signs of Aging in Your Brain.
In this article, you’ll see why it’s also good for the rest of your body.
Dance floors, even ballroom dance floors, tend to be sweaty places for a reason. All those shimmies and shakes, triple-steps, spins, turns and dips…these movements all burn energy like you wouldn’t believe—and they come with many other surprising health benefits.
Dancing Burns Calories…But Wait, There’s More!
Depending on the dance, you can expend more than 300 calories every half-hour, according to a report from the University of Brighton in the UK. That energy expenditure meets or exceeds the energy you burn during an easy run or swim. Even relatively tame dance styles burn about the same number of calories as cycling.
The reason dancing requires so much energy is because it involves “movement in all directions”, according to Nick Smeeton, co-author of the report and principal lecturer at the University of Brighton.
Running, swimming, jogging, even hiking are all forms of “propulsive” physical activity. You’re constantly moving forward and the body uses that rhythm and momentum to make sure you keep moving.
As Smeeton points out, in dancing there’s a lot more accelerating and decelerating…and changing directions as well as speed. The body simply isn’t able to do that in a very “energy-efficient” way. So it requires more energy to perform the fast paced changes in most dances.
He compares it this way – “If running is like driving on a freeway, dancing is more like motoring through a busy city. All that starting, stopping and changing directions burns a ton of fuel, even though you’re not covering a lot of ground.
Of course, the amount of energy you burn is directly related to the style of dance and how much energy you put into it. A gentle foxtrot or slow, sultry rumba is going to burn up the same amount of calories as an intense hike in the hills.
But burning up calories is only one of the reasons dancing is so good for your body. Activities such as trail hiking and running do a better job of engaging the joints and muscles in the lower body than level-ground, straight-ahead movement.
Similarly, the diversity of movements in dancing, such as up and down, side to side, back and forth…these movements stimulate and train many of the smaller, interior muscles and tendons that help support your body.
Studies Show Proof of Dancing Benefits
Depending on the dance style, dancing can be considered a type of cardio exercise. If you don’t believe that, try 45 minutes of salsa dancing! One study, performed back in 2007, discovered hip-hop dancing ranked right up there with aerobic exercise for improving energy, boosting mood and lowering stress. Study results also showed psychological stress and fatigue were rated lower in those groups. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17879660
A much more recent study done in 2017 explored the effect of dancing on white matter in the brains of senior citizens, aged 60-79. You can think about white matter as the ‘connective tissue’ of the brain and as we grow older, it begins to break down.
This natural break down in white matter causes a decrease in the brain’s processing speed and can cause thinking and memory issues for older adults, according to Agnieszka Burzynska. Ms. Burzynska is an assistant professor of neuroscience at Colorado State University and served as the first author of the 2017 study.
The study specifically focused on the changes in white matter among older men and women who were involved in exercise programs of stretching, walking or dancing. Over the six months of the study, white matter integrity decreased in the walking and stretching groups, but actually increased in the individuals who danced three days a week.
For even more reasons you should include dancing in your life on a regular basis, stay tuned for the third and final article in this series “Why Dancing is So Good for You”.