Dancing May Be the Best Form of Exercise
In the endless search for a low-effort, high-results workout, it comes pretty close
The trouble with exercise is that it’s easy to avoid. Only 23% of American adults meet the federal recommendations for two hours and 30 minutes of weekly aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. The reasons are plentiful, mostly involving motivation and time. And herein lies the beauty of dance.
Estimates suggest that people can burn about 200 calories in 30 minutes from a quick-paced dance routine. And growing research suggests that dancing not only helps people stay in physical shape but also improves brain and mental health.
The reason dance is ideal exercise is because it’s a total-body workout. “It’s a great way to access all movement planes and access some muscles that get ignored in typical day-to-day activities,” says Lynn Berman, a physical therapist and owner of Spring Forward Physical Therapy in New York City.
“Depending on the type of dance, it can offer cardiovascular benefits by increasing your heart rate, it can help strengthen the lower and upper extremities through repeated muscle contractions, and it can challenge coordination and balance, especially when following a choreographed dance at different tempos,” he adds.
Once you get into it, dance also feels good. In a 2011 research study, researchers at Selçuk University in Konya, Turkey, examined 120 dance conservatory students who participated in 12 weeks of dance movement therapy for depression. For three days a week, the students learned and practiced moves from rumba and classical dance. The researchers found that the students who experienced dance movement therapy reported feeling less depressed at the end of the three months.
Dancing also appears to affect the brain in ways that extend beyond mental health conditions. “One of the benefits of physical activity is that it enhances executive function and attention, processing speed, and memory,” says Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, a psychologist who studies mood and anxiety disorders as well as sports rehabilitation at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. “Dancing involves both a mental effort and social interaction. Regular dancing can help prevent cognitive decline as we age and…