You don’t need us to tell you the benefits of exercise—and how great dancing is for the body. An impressive body of research, numerous experts, and health and fitness articles worldwide, all associate dance with good physical health. Even when you casually hit the dance floor with friends, you burn calories. Lots of them—a report by Harvard Medical School claims that a person weighing about 56 kgs (125 pounds) can slash up to 180 calories in 30 minutes of fast dancing!
You also end up bettering other bodily aspects, like mobility, endurance, stamina and flexibility. Additionally, dancing is linked to boosted heart and lung health, muscular strength, motor fitness, stronger bones, even a reduced risk of osteoporosis.
But remember the ‘happy high’ you feel the moment you shake a leg? Or how it instantly relaxes you? That is your mental health being worked on. Yes, dancing exercises your mental health too, and is highly beneficial for its wellness.
What are the mental health benefits of dance?
The instant good-mood is thanks to dopamine. According to the British Science Association, this is one of the many scientifically-proven gains of dancing—that it produces dopamine—the natural mood-lifter. Dance and exercises based on it also produce endorphins—the natural painkillers, and reduce cortisol—the stress hormone, and an excess of which can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.
UCLA Health adds that ‘conscious dance’, which “encourages self-discovery through un-choreographed movement” can also help with depression, anxiety or history of trauma.
Exercise and mental health are intricately connected. Interestingly, all types of dances—from letting yourself loose to remixes at your friend’s birthday bash or sweating it out with Salsa at the gym—carry the advantages of exercise… and every step counts.
Some more benefits of exercise on mental health are…
- Imparts greater self-confidence: Dancing leads to increased self-esteem and better social skills, according to Better Healthy, Department of Health, Victoria. It can improve memory, promote self-expression and emotional exploration, and can make individuals more open to setting and attaining goals, and taking on new challenges, according to another study.
- Therapeutic for cognitive problems: Dancing activates sensory and motor circuits, and can, thus, help. According to the British Science Association report, for instance, some health authorities are now starting to “prescribe Argentine Tango for Parkinson’s”. Another report discovered that dance can “decidedly” improve brain health, and can help reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly.
- Promotes feelings of ‘social belonging’: Many dance-styles require you to be in closer proximity with people than you usually are in everyday interactions. “Your dance partner/group enter your personal bubble, academically known as your ‘peri-personal’ space”, the British Science Association report elaborates. This kind of close—consensual and comfortable—contact releases oxytocin, which “makes us feel sociable and helps us bond with the people around us.
- Fights geriatric health issues. A report, among many, asserts that it can combat as well as prevent various old-age related troubles, and, thus, contributes to the well-being of the elderly, maintaining their physical fitness and functional capacity at satisfactory levels.
Here’s how you can get started
Age, clearly, is no bar here. From 7 to 80, anyone can dance…and reap the benefits of working out. Depending on your needs, fitness, and agility levels, the exercises can be easily modified, for maximum aid. We suggest:
- Begin small, with easy-steps and short-duration classes, especially if you are not used to working out. Experts say an easy to moderate dance routine, about 10 to 15 minutes, twice or thrice a week, should be good, for starters. Gradually, work your way up.
- Follow a routine, set aside time, and be consistent. You can easily do a dance workout at home, via apps or online tutorials, although a physical class—and working out with others—may be more motivating, and you’ll likely have fewer distractions.
- Keep it fun. You can incorporate other exercises in your dance workout—switchingthings up with cross-training can also give better results. For instance, with fast-paced, cardio-focused versions, like Zumba, you can include strength training. Slower forms can be clubbed with cardio activities. A certified instructor should guide you here.
- Don’t be self-conscious. Dance like no-one is watching and enjoy your workouts. Also, smaller movements are fairly simple to do, while steps with exaggerated, bigger movements are more challenging. So choose accordingly.
- Consult with your healthcare provider before you start if you have an underlying health condition.