Dancing and health
Moving to music appeals to our most primal instincts: dance has been a part of culture for as long has man has walked the planet. It stimulates the senses - sight, sound and touch - it's great fun and it's good for our bodies and minds. See below for how dancing improves your health.
Dancing is a great way to build physical activity into our lives. And with so many different forms, from jitterbug to jive, salsa to samba, foxtrot to flamenco - there's something for every pair of dancing feet. At the end of this article we list some the main styles of dancing (along with web adresses for further information) that you might like to try.
Good for every body
To help stay healthy, the Government recommends that everyone take part in 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity five times a week. That's activity that gets you breathing faster, increases your heart rate and warms you up. You don't have to be pouring with sweat and panting - you should be able to keep it up for half an hour. And the good news is that dancing counts.
Most dance styles, even a stately waltz, are the activity equivalent of at least a moderate (3mph) walk. Anyone who Highland flings or ballroom dances themselves around a room will up their heart rate, warm up and breathe quickly. Regular dancing will reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and cancer.1 And you'll enjoy yourself so much you'll forget you're exercising!
Burns the calories
Regular dancing will also help keep you trim. Avoiding weight gain can become harder as we get older, because ageing is associated with a loss in muscle mass and an increase in body fat. But as you shimmy across the floor, you'll be burning calories: in a half-hour dance session, an average 60kg person will burn at least 99 calories.1 Of course this varies - you'll burn more with a lively Latino-style than beginner's belly dancing because you're moving more.
Good for your bones and joints
Dancing helps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis because the steps put a strain on your bones, helping them to stay strong and dense. The more dense your bones are, the longer your bones will remain strong and less likely to fracture if you should fall.
Also the dips, turns and side-to-side movements in dance routines make good use of your muscles and joints, helping to delay the progression of osteoarthritis.1
Keeps you moving
Other skills you'll develop as you learn to glide elegantly across the dancefloor - poise and grace - encourage coordination, balance and muscle strength. These are particularly important in later life as it helps to reduce the risk of falling allowing people to maintain their mobility and independent living.
Good for your mind
A regular quickstep or tango will help to keep your mind active as well as your body. Exercise improves circulation and helps prevent oxygen starvation to the brain, and remembering complex steps stimulates the working memory. In fact, research suggests that ballroom dancing reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or dementia.2
Not only can exercise slow mental decline, but it may actually enhance brain power.1 And there's some evidence that listening to music while you exercise stimulates mental functioning more than silent activities.3 So regular dancing might even help you impress your chess mates or solve those trickier crossword clues.
There's another good reason why dance benefits the brain - social life. Of course there is nothing to stop you turning up the volume and jiving round your living room whenever the fancy takes you, but dancing tends to be a shared pursuit. Spending time with good friends can stimulate the mind and protect against mental decline.4 Being part of a group, team or community is one of the keys to a happy life, bringing emotional support and a sense of purpose.5,6 To get the most out of social dancing, go for regular group classes aimed at your level of ability, where you'll meet up with the same like-minded dancers each week.
Lifts your mood
Many dance forms are wonderfully relaxing. You can let your mind wander as you trip the light fantastic. Depending on the style you choose, a dance class can be a pleasant trip down memory lane, or a stimulating voyage into new musical realms.
What's more, exercising can lift your mood and reduce the risk of depression1 - don't overlook the feelgood factor of a foxtrot. And let's not forget the sense of achievement you'll feel as you master the most complex of moves - finding something you enjoy, and that you can see and feel your improvement at with practice, can give your confidence an enormous boost.
Dance organisations and contacts
There's a dance for every taste, so why not sample a few classes until you find one that suits you? Your library should have a list of local dance classes or organisations.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
A fusion of jive and salsa, combining sensuous moves, dips and turns, ceroc can be done to any music with a beat, from 40s rock to the latest chart hits. It's pretty strenuous and good for exercising the heart.