Health Benefits of dance, start dancing

Four reasons to start dancing

It’s that time of year when we pick our post-Christmas, lardy selves up off the sofa and make those resolutions: like actually getting fit or losing weight. We ultimately fail at these goals because our focus is on the end result and not on how we get there. You could join a gym or a slimming group and even attend a session but are you having fun? Instead, why not try something that you might enjoy and actually keep doing – why not start dancing?

Dancing is a wonderful activity with a huge range of benefits beyond the obvious physical fitness. You can dance on your own, in a group or with a partner. It can be competitive or social, performed for an audience or simply for your own pleasure in your lounge.

So what are these magical benefits that, 100% guaranteed, will change your life? Let’s get started.

1. Dancing is a great form of physical exercise

The physical benefits of dancing are potentially huge. Dancing:

  • Helps improve the condition of your heart and lungs and aerobic fitness
  • Improves the strength and condition of your muscles
  • Increases your balance, coordination, flexibility and agility
  • Gives you stronger bones and decreases the risk of osteoporosis
  • Helps with weight management.

That list alone should have you signing up for the next beginner’s class at your local dance school.

Naturally, different dance styles will give you varying degrees of each of these benefits:

  • If you want flexibility, ballet and its modern daughters of contemporary and lyrical dance could be for you.
  • Are high-energy, fast-paced workouts your thing? Try jazz, salsa or street dance.
  • If you prefer something more sedate – but in no way sedentary – social ballroom and tea dances will keep you moving
  • For strengthening and muscle conditioning you could try belly dance which is low impact so good for tired knees or even pole dancing (which can have high impact consequences – ouch!)

But seriously, pole dancing is the single most physically-demanding activity I have ever tried and I used to play rugby…

2. Dancing is good for your brain

Now, this is where dancing starts to pull ahead of its competition. There are many studies that show links between dancing and improved brain function. A study at Stanford University stated that “frequent dance apparently makes us smarter”. It was the only physical discipline in the study that included many sports that promoted protection from Alzheimer’s disease. Dance connects the mind and body through learning steps or “patterns” in combination with timing those steps to the music and it’s this that helps improve your memory and boost your multitasking abilities.

Simply put, it gives your noggin a good work out too.

Our pre-frontal and frontal cortices are active during learning new choreographies and subsequent repetition puts those moves into our “muscle memory”. There is a dance saying “Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong”.

A 2003 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that of the 11 activities studied, dancing – and only dancing – lowered the risk of dementia by an amazing 76%. Many observations have also been made between those who start dancing and the alleviation of symptoms for people already suffering from Parkinson’s disease, such as slowed movement and tremors. Dancing keeps your brain healthier as you age.

3. Dancing is a social activity

Attending a dance class or social dancing event connects you with other like-minded people. It gets you out of the house and is a great way to make friends and possibly find that significant other (although please note that most people at a dance class aren’t looking for a hook-up but are actually there because they want to learn to dance). If you dance in a troupe, you’ll find that friendship will grow even stronger because of the shared experience of a performance. Through social media, you can connect with the wider dance community within your style of dance. Often, dance groups and schools will have special events throughout the year such as a Christmas party. They may even host performance nights where everyone has an opportunity to pop that performance cherry in a safe and supportive environment.

4. Dancing makes you feel good

This benefit seems simple at face value but is possibly the most powerful. When you dance, especially in a social environment, your brain releases endorphins. And the more you dance the more accustomed your brain becomes to releasing that groovy neutral transmitter – you literally rewire yourself to become happy.

And happiness is a powerhouse.

When we’re happy we are more likely to succeed in our goals – like weight loss. We build better relationships at work and in our social lives. Happiness boosts our immune system and live longer.

Dancing combats depression, it alleviates stress and reduces anxiety. It builds your confidence in social situations and gives you a better relationship with your own body. And in a society that values youth and beauty over knowledge and individuality, positive body image is something that so many people need.

Reasons to start dancing

When people start dancing regularly, the inter-connectivity of physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing can result in tremendous self-transformation.

However, when we see it on television, dance can be intimidating. Its either being judged which involves critiquing technique or it’s being performed by very athletic figures in a pop video which often results in us critiquing our own bodies (“I don’t look like that so how could I possibly dance?”). Plus how many activities can claim to be both a sport and an art form? (Lionel Messi may be an artist but football is not an art). All the benefits described above are available to everyone as dance is accessible to everyone. This isn’t about having the best technique or even being a good dancer!

There are no drilling moves until your feet bleed whilst someone wearing leg warmers shouts at you.

It’s about getting up and joining in. If you join a dance class or group you will be welcomed irrespective of your experience and will be surrounded by other people who were all beginners once. Neither does it matter what genre of dance you partake in. You can enjoy all of the benefits regardless of what gets your foot tapping – hip-hop, country, swing or samba – there is a dance out there for you.

If you are inspired to start dancing there are several places you can search for a dance class:

  • Google ‘dance schools in your area’ or check out your local community centre or village hall
  • Facebook is also a good place to search by dance genre or location
  • Dance teachers and schools will often advertise in local papers and free publications
  • Ask your friends! You’ll be surprised how many of them regularly trip the light fantastic.

So do you need any more reasons to start dancing?

Why do you dance? Tell me what inspires you to move like Jagger.

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