Dance Your Way to Better Physical and Mental Health
By Mary West
Few activities can rival dancing’s multifaceted benefits that encompass every area of health – physical, mental, emotional and social. While some activities are good mental stimulators and others are effective muscle toners, dancing is rather unique in its multidimensional advantages that address the entire spectrum of wellness. Whether a person’s preference is a beautiful waltz, sultry tango or lively polka, this activity can stave off illness and even curtail some of the effects of aging.
Physical benefits of dance
The American Council on Exercise recommends dancing for an aerobic workout, as it provides cardiovascular conditioning, which lowers blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, in addition to aiding in weight control. Since dance involves weight bearing, it boosts bone density, along with muscle strength and coordination.
Other benefits include improved balance, stamina and flexibility. Also, ballroom dancing involves using muscle groups that are not heavily used in walking or jogging, particularly for women, who dance backwards.
Mental, emotional and social benefits of dance
In addition to challenging the body, dance can also challenge the mind, making it sharper. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine two years ago found that frequent dancers have a lower incidence of dementia compared to people who rarely dance.
Author Joe Verghese, MD, postulates the mental benefit of dance may be due to several factors. The process of sequencing, memorizing steps and timing body movement to music involves mental activity. Another factor is the increased blood circulation to the brain from the physical workout. Also, the social and emotional aspects of reduced stress, depression and loneliness could play a role.
Anti-aging benefits of dance
Earlier research by Dr. Jonathan Skinner from Queen’s University in Belfast shows dance can counteract some of the natural, physical and mental deterioration associated with aging, which prompted the scientist to recommend social dancing to help people live longer and healthier lives.
Skinner asserts that social dancing promotes a continued engagement in life, conducive for fostering longevity. Aside from giving people something to enjoy, it reduces social isolation and even aches and pains frequently experienced in old age. A 70-year-old participant in Skinner’s study, who does the rumba and fox trot, as well as quickstep and tango has so much energy that her friends ask her what her secret is. She replies, “Keep dancing.”
Getting started with ballroom dancing
Jane Wilson Cathcart, a dance therapist from New York, offers some pointers for beginners. She recommends looking for a good teacher who will be encouraging, focusing on what dancers are able to do rather than on their limitations. Cathcart also suggests novices relax and totally enjoy the experience, avoiding perfectionism.
This sounds like good advice. After all, what could be more pleasant than madly whirling around a dance floor to the beat of great music while in the arms of a spouse or significant other?