Dance is one of the oldest forms of self-expression and entertainment on earth, existing since antiquity. But aside from just being an enjoyable way to express and entertain one's self, there are some great health benefits to dancing, or dance movement therapy.
Dancing is a physical activity and it has all of the same physical health benefits as walking, bicycling, or swimming. Dancing is a great way to strengthen bones and muscles, maintain a healthy weight improve balance and stay healthy in general. Dancing is also an activity that is appropriate for nearly everyone because it's so easy to vary the intensity based on fitness level and ability. Simply by increasing the dance tempo or adding a turn or dip, dancers can increase the intensity and get more of a physical benefit.
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, it is estimated that 200 million women worldwide are affected by osteoporosis. One of the best ways to increase bone density and reverse the bone loss of osteoporosis is low impact, weight bearing exercise, such as dancing. Dancing increases muscular strength as well, something that is lost as people age. The loss of strength and bone density adds up to a loss of mobility and quality of life as people get older.
Dancing is a great way to maintain a healthy weight as well. A healthy weight is essential to everyone, no matter their age is. However, as people get older, metabolism slows. In addition, more and more people have sedentary lifestyles, with more people working in offices instead of in physical jobs, such as construction. By spending a little time dancing, people can rev up their metabolism and have some fun doing it.
Balance is essential for preventing injuries in people of all ages. Each year, one out of every three people 65 years of age or older will suffer some kind of fall resulting in an injury, and often those injuries are fatal, says the CDC. One of the best ways to increase balance is with dance, according to several studies conducted at the University of Missouri. The studies found that seniors who participated in group dance classes had improved balance and gait, which are two major factors in preventing falls.
According to the results of several research studies whose results were compiled into a report by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, exercises like dancing can actually help ward off disease. One study showed that stress hormones that suppress the immune system are reduced during moderate physical exercise and that the effect is cumulative over time. This means that by dancing just a few days a week, people may be able to weather the cold and flu season unscathed.
In addition to better health, dancing can make people feel better in other ways as well. Dancing has been shown to help prevent mild depression and improves confidence among dancers.
Depression is becoming an increasing problem among adolescents and adults of all ages. A study in The International Journal of Neuroscience found that dance movement therapy was shown to improve depression and improve psychological stress by regulating the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body. Since dance is a social activity, it helps with the feelings of isolation that people who suffer from depression, or older people living alone, often feel.
Dance also helps improve confidence. Each time a new dance step is mastered, dancers experience an increase in confidence in addition to an elevated mood. That increase in confidence carries over to every aspect of life as Stanley Tucci's character Link demonstrated in the 2004 movie "Shall We Dance".
A 21-year study of seniors published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that frequent dancing actually helped stave off the affects of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, as well as increasing mental acuity for people of all ages. In short, dancing makes you smarter.
The study followed a group of seniors 75-years-old and older and was conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The study examined several forms of physical and cognitive activities and found that dancing had a 76 percent reduction in the risk and affects of dementia.
In addition, the complexity of dancing can actually increase neural pathways, this study found. These neural pathways increase as we learn. The brain rewires these pathways as needed throughout life. When it comes to the human mind, the phrase "use it or lose it" really does apply.
Dr. Joseph Coyle, a psychiatrist with Harvard Medical School, wrote in commentary on the study:
"The cerebral cortex and hippocampus, which are critical to these activities, are remarkably plastic, and they rewire themselves based upon their use."
Dr. Katzman, one of the study's authors hypothesized that people are able to resist the effects of dementia because they have an increased cognitive reserve and a greater complexity of neuronal synapses.
Things to remember:
- Dance is a physical activity so it's important to consult a doctor to be sure the activity is safe.
- A dancer should try several different styles of dance, but give each one a few weeks. This way the dancer can determine the style they like most.
- Dancing should be fun. If it isn't, it's not being done right.