The health benefits of dancing

16 January 2018

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This article is more than three years old. It reflects the best available evidence at the time of publication.

David Bowie said: Let’s dance! And he’s right. Seriously, there are so many reasons to throw some shapes and take a turn on the dance floor. And it’s not just at weddings or around your handbag on a Saturday night out. Dance has a firm place in our hearts thanks to TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing and movies we all love like Dirty Dancing. It’s become a craze that’s swept the nation as a fantastic way to get fit, and have fun at the same time.

Dancing benefits

Dance is unique because it uses and strengthens your emotions, cognitive skills, physical abilities and social connections – all of which are vital skills for daily life. Not only is it sky high on the fun factor, it’s really good for your health – and here’s why.

What are the physical benefits of dancing?

Dancing is a great way to raise your heart rate. According to our calorie calculator you can burn over 400 calories in an hour. It also makes your muscles work hard, which helps to maintain and improve strength.

Dancing requires you to use lots of different parts of your body – from your head and neck right down to your toes. Often your upper body and arms are moving in one direction, while your lower body and legs are doing something completely different. This change in pattern of movements is a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head. And it all works on your concentration, coordination, balance and agility. It’s a complete body and mind workout.

What are the mental benefits of dancing?

Research also suggests that dancing has a range of mental health and wellbeing benefits. A review of research looked at the evidence for the effects of dancing and Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) over the last 20 years, and included 23 studies. The research looked at many different types of dance, ranging from ballroom to folk dance. It also studied different groups of people, and aspects of psychological wellbeing.

Overall the review findings suggested that dancing has a positive effect on our quality of life, body image and mood. It also found that DMT and dancing reduced depression and decreased anxiety.

Boosting your mood

All exercise is thought to be a mood booster. This is because it affects certain chemicals in your brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, which can affect your mood and thinking. But what gives dancing the edge?

Our Specialist Health Editor, Laura Blanks, goes to a street dance class every week. Here’s what she has to say about the benefits of dancing.

“When I walk into a dance class I immediately feel a sense of release, I leave whatever has happened during the day behind me, and focus my mind on the challenge ahead.  And believe me, it’s a challenge! Not only do you push your body physically, you also have to think about the way it moves. And it doesn’t stop there; picking up choreography requires lots of brain power – you have to be continuously on the ball. Even after you’ve learnt the moves, you need to ‘drill it’ to allow them to come naturally, and flow as part of the routine.

“When I leave a dance class I feel great – I’m buzzing from the excitement and challenge of learning a new piece of choreography. And even if I haven’t quite nailed it towards the end of the session, it gives me something to focus on and a new found determination to get it right.” 

Which dance style is right for me?

Dance is great because there are so many different styles, and you’ll get a variety of benefits from each one. These are my favourite five and why they are so good for your physical fitness.

Tango: This is a Latin dance and requires precision and control, a strong frame and core. In the dance there are particular rhythms, postures to hold, and quick changes and dramatic postures. It’s great for developing strength in your body and precise movement. As a partner dance with set steps and moves you will need to work together as a team to make the dance work.

Salsa: This dance is all about moving your hips and sashaying with your partner across the dance floor. It’s a sociable dance in that you often change partner. So it doesn’t matter if you want to learn but don’t have anyone to buddy up with. There are set steps to follow but the overall effect is spicy and energetic; you often need to shift your weight (this is what causes your hips to move). There’s also a lot of shoulder movement and twist and turns. This makes it a great dance style for flexibility and moving your whole body continuously in fluid movements. It’s also good for developing your balance and control in turning, and you need good hip control for the swivel.

Street dance: A dance that started in the streets, parks and nightclubs, street dance involves a combination of moves such as popping, locking, hip hop and breaking. This makes it quite lively and ‘full out’! You’ll definitely notice your heart rate rising so it’s a great cardio workout. It tends to have a lot of energetic movements and requires a dose of attitude. The moves involve a good sense of timing, agility, changes in pace and creative patterns of movement. This is higher impact than some other forms of dance, but is a good one for helping improve bone density.

Ballet/Barre: Ballet is a classic dance, and great foundation for all types of dance. It involves balance, control and flexibility. Recently, the Barre workout has evolved – this involves set positions and movements using a barre. These are all set to music. It incorporates ballet, yoga and pilates into one. It’s also a contemporary twist on ballet and dance.

Zumba: This is a dance inspired fitness class and is great for beginners – the steps are easy to follow and will guarantee a moderate to high intensity aerobic workout. The moves are repetitive so you can get used to them, and pick them up fairly quickly. It’s high energy and quite high impact, and will get your body working and your heart pumping for sure. Zumba is a good option if you’re coming back to dance or exercise after injury, as the classes are often laid back, and you can push yourself to the appropriate level for you.

Think dancing isn’t for you?

These are some of the common reasons people shy away from the dance floor.

  • I don’t want to hold someone’s sweaty hands and have them step on my toes! Or worse, step on someone else’s toes! That’s okay, not all dance is done with a partner. While you’re finding your feet, choose a style that you can do in a group but doesn’t require you to get too close to anyone. Line dancing, ballet, tap, contemporary and street dance could be styles to try out first.
  • It looks really hard; I’ll never be able to keep up. It can be intimidating when you see how good people look, but everyone was a beginner at some point. Join a beginner class so you don’t feel intimidated, or out of your depth. And half of the challenge is to learn something new – enjoy being a beginner and remember to take stock every time you notice you’ve improved.
  • I don’t have the confidence; I’ll just make a fool of myself... Dance teachers want to share their love of dance, and will do everything to encourage an open and supportive atmosphere. You’ll likely find that everyone else feels the same as you do too. So don’t let this hold you back – the benefits outweigh feeling worried about how you look. And to be honest, everyone is too busy checking themselves out to be looking at how others are doing!
  • I don’t have a partner – I don’t want to be left standing by myself! Don’t worry! Lots of dance styles and classes are designed so that you dance with different partners multiple times. Plus this is a great way to get to know other people.
  • I’m too old to start dancing now. Never! Dancing is for everyone and is a recommended exercise activity by Public Health England. For kids, adults and older people, dancing is universal, which is another reason why it’s so great.

Get to the beat

So if you’re feeling inspired and want to learn a new skill, get fit and meet new people, dancing could be a great form of exercise for you. To find a class in your area, simply Google it. There are also websites such as The British Dance Council, One Dance and Dance Near You, that can help you find a class that’s suitable for you.

What to wear

  • Loose clothing you can move in. You’re bound to get hot so wear a t-shirt or vest, and a light sweater to warm up and cool down in afterwards.
  • Some dances have outfits and shoes to match – cowboy boots for line dancing anyone? But whatever you wear, make sure you’re comfortable, particularly your feet. The last thing you want are blisters. Wear trainers if you’re just starting out.
  • Some types of dance involve floor work, so you might want to invest in some knee pads to avoid bruised knees.
  • Take a bottle of water with you so you stay hydrated.

Even healthy people become unhealthy sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance

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