Dance your way to health

Jog, swim, cycle. When you ask your doctor how to exercise, you seem to always get the same answer. But what if these choices don’t suit you?

The importance of appropriate lifestyle choice and their impact on health has by now become general knowledge. At the core of these measures are usually weight optimization, wholesome food choices, avoidance of unhealthy behavior such as smoking, stress and too much alcohol, and: doing more physical exercise. Starting out with physical exercise, one may choose both endurance and strength training, or a combination thereof.

Individualists who enjoy running, swimming or cycling and are willing to do this long term are at an advantage, as they have already found suitable ways to improve their health. But what about those of us who may be a little older, or feel more at ease exercising in a group?

This group of people may find it difficult to find a suitable team sport to start with and might profit from trying out dancing. Dance schools typically offer beginner classes for all age groups, and one can choose between more social environments and more sporty classes. Even after classes end, dancers may continue to socialize and train either as couples or teams, and thus be attractive in the long term.

Learning and practicing dance steps are a form of exercise that has a positive influence on both body and mind. It challenges the whole body, increases flexibility as much as balance, endurance, coordination and cognition and memory.

Given all these advantages for our health dancing has to offer, it is of little wonder dancing has become the focus of attention of sports scientists. From their perspective, dancing is a composite activity, which encourages use of various skills to reach the goal. Dancing trains coordination, rhythm, endurance, and strength, in particular core strength, to various degrees depending on dance style.

If we look at the energy consumption, dance style and degree of sportiness will have their impact, but it is comparable to the typical sports exercises done. One hour dance for a 60 kg woman will lead to an average energy consumption of about 200 kcal, equivalent to an hour gymnastics or volleyball. A 70 kg man doing high powered Rock ‘n’ Roll will expend as much as 600 kcal in an hour, equivalent to jogging. One hour of Tango, by contrast, would expend 400 kcal, equivalent to an hour of Badminton.

Once the beginner has learned the right dance steps, thus training coordination and rhythm, the endurance aspect takes priority, and thus the more obvious health benefits. Over time, the dancer will see effects on improved endurance and on weight loss comparable to other, more traditional ways of doing sports.

Looking specifically at blood pressure regulation, a typical 12 week dance program will lead to average blood pressure reduction of as much as 12/ 5 mm Hg, which is the approximate equivalent of taking one standard blood pressure pill.

As such, dancing provides a scientifically proven alternative to traditional exercise with positive effects on general health, but in particular on blood pressure.

References for the scientifically minded:

Josianne Rodrigues-Krause et al. Effects of dance interventions on cardiovascular risk with ageing: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Dec;29:16-28.

doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.09.004. Epub 2016 Sep 4. PMID: 27912941

Lino Sergio Rocha Conceição et al. Effect of dance therapy on blood pressure and exercise capacity of individuals with hypertension: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Cardiol. 2016 Oct 1;220:553-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2016.06.182. Epub 2016 Jun 26.PMID: 27390986

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