The health benefits of dancing
Tons of research has been done about the benefits of dancing, and social dancing in particular. Anything that gets you up off the couch, out of the house, and moving is good for your health. Below is information about some of the proven health benefits of dancing; and to the right is some information about my personal journey. Dancing is a unique form of exercise because it provides the heart-healthy benefits of an aerobic exercise while also allowing you to engage in a social activity.
Dancing Off Those Calories
How many calories will you burn while dancing? That depends on the type of dancing. Here’s a range of some of the most popular varieties, based on a 150-pound person, per hour:
- Swing dancing: 235 calories/hour
- Ballroom dancing: 265
- Square dancing: 280
- Ballet: 300
- Belly dancing: 380
- Salsa dancing: 420+
- Aerobic dancing: 540+
Mayo Clinic researchers reported that social dancing helps to:
- Reduce stress
- Increase energy
- Improve strength
- Increase muscle tone and coordination
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says that dancing can:
- Lower your risk of coronary heart disease
- Decrease blood pressure
- Help you manage your weight
- Strengthen the bones of your legs and hips
One 21-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine even found dancing can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in the elderly. In the study, participants over the age of 75 who engaged in reading, dancing and playing musical instruments and board games once a week had a 7 percent lower risk of dementia compared to those who did not. Those who engaged in these activities at least 11 days a month had a 63 percent lower risk! Interestingly, dancing was the only physical activity out of 11 in the study that was associated with a lower risk of dementia. Dancing may be a triple benefit for the brain. Not only does the physical aspect of dancing increase blood flow to the brain, but also the social aspect of the activity leads to less stress, depression and loneliness. Further, dancing requires memorizing steps and working with a partner, both of which provide mental challenges that are crucial for brain health.
- Conditions the body
- Helps keep the heart in shape
- Builds and increases stamina
- Develops the circulatory system
- Strengthens and tones legs and body
- Increases flexibility and balance
- Helps with weight loss
- Relieves stress
Dancing makes you smarter! http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm
My personal dancing for health journey…
You might think that you can’t dance because you’re not a size 2. That, as a dance teacher – who must be in TERRIFIC!!!! shape, that I couldn’t possibly understand how you think you’re too fat to dance, that after working all day you have no energy to do anything other than collapse in the chair. But OH how wrong you would be!
Let me tell you briefly about my life. Years ago, during high school and shortly after, I taught dance to children. And I loved it. And back then I did have more of a “dancer’s body” and some of those things above would have been true. Now, while I would LOVE to teach dance full-time, I don’t, because frankly the business is still new and hasn’t yet built up to that level (although I’m confident that it will get there). I work more than 40-hours a week (usually 60 or more) at a full-time job that is primarily a “desk job”. Usually when I’m not sitting at the desk, I’m crawling around under it attempting to plug in whatever computer cable came unplugged so that I can finish my work. Not exactly a big calorie burner.
I’m also a single mom of five teenage boys – which I’m sure just made you realize that I might be crazy. They’re great kids, but it has left very little “me” time over the years. It also makes that “desk job” rather critical because they like food.
A few years ago, my mom was admitted to the ICU, and was in the hospital for about four months before she passed away. I found myself up at the hospital every day, or every other day, in addition to what you can imagine from above is an already hectic schedule. On top of that, I was eating junk food that I grabbed on my way to visit her, and my stress level had increased dramatically – all things proven to add bulges to your hips and other places where you might not want them. I gained weight, and quickly. Granted, I never reached the size of someone who would gladly become a contestant on a reality TV weight-loss show, and at my heaviest I still hadn’t hit 200 lbs, but I could see and feel the changes. And I didn’t like them.
After my mother passed away, my job workload just increased and increased, reaching ridiculous levels, and my stress continued to skyrocket. One thing you need to know about me is that I am blessed to handle stress very well, so when it’s even getting to me you know it must be very bad.
I was tired. I had no energy. The scariest thing was when I started having heart palpitations from all of the stress. That’s what the doc said – stress. He said relieve your stress. My question was how? I can get rid of my job, as long as you support my five kids doc. Or I can get rid of a few of my kids, would you like 3 or 4 of them? But frankly none of those were things I would have ever (really) considered. My mother diet from complications directly resulting for her obesity, and I did NOT want to follow that path. Life is great, and I want to live it LONG and be around to see grandkids and great-grandkids.
A coworker, who had never danced before, kept mentioning how she wanted to learn. I told her that I’d be happy to take a class with her, because she knew she wouldn’t be able to pick up the steps as quickly as I could, and I would be able to give her some extra help on the side. We had information in hand about classes, but our work schedules wouldn’t allow it for several months. Finally our schedules cleared, we both joined, and had so much fun! I realized how badly I had missed dancing, and started feeling better from just the 45 minutes of exercise each week.
About three months after we started taking those classes, the studio posted information about an upcoming ballroom teacher training course. It was expensive, and it would require dancing four hours a day, every day, on top of my eight hour job. I mentioned a bit earlier that I am crazy, right? But I knew that if I would do it, I could once again begin teaching dance, which would give me an exercise that I enjoyed, but also force me to do it, because when other people are paying you, you have to be there. So I did it, and I was in pain for months. It was actually rather hilarious. I started the training dancing on a broken toe. My unused muscles screamed in complaint every day. I’d sleep – and I’d sleep very well, dropping in exhaustion on my bed at night, sometimes so tired that I wouldn’t even realize I hadn’t undressed until the next morning. Unfortunately during sleep my muscles would stiffen, and I’d awake hurting even worse the next morning. My new best friend was named Ben Gay. But I stuck it out, through the flu, through painful spasms in my shoulders and back muscles that were caused by stress, through doing nothing but dancing and working and sleeping, basically only seeing my kids on weekends.
And I’m glad that I did.
My heart palpitations are mostly gone. Every now and then, when things are even more stressful than usual (I didn’t think that possible, but obviously it is), I will have an episode or two, but for the most part the exercise and fun stress relief that dancing brings has banished that problem! I have also lost weight. Understand something, I’m not TRYING to lose weight. I’m not changing my eating habits, although I have always eaten relatively healthy and prefer to stay away from greasy junk food; however, I still have my chocolate as a normal part of my diet. But I am losing weight, and more importantly I can feel muscle definition where I used to have none, and I feel healthy. My pants are falling off (which can be awkward when you are a dance teacher – can you say wardrobe malfunction?) and my coworkers and friends are commenting regularly about how they can tell that I’m losing weight.
But that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to find a fun way to exercise so that I could get healthy. I figure if I get a cute skinny dancer body out of the deal, that’s good too 😉
The point is that you need to MOVE. You don’t have to be skinny to dance. You don’t even need rhythm. All you need is a good teacher. Come try a class, and see if it’s a way that you’d like to get healthier while you have fun.