I’m not a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions but last year, I decided to do something for myself that I’d been wanting to do for the longest time but never really felt I had the skills for: learn to dance. Over the next twelve months, I went from somebody who could barely bust a move at parties to someone who could improvise steps to a beat. Not only that, I can honestly say that learning to dance improved my quality of life!
For most of us, dance is simply a spectator sport to be consumed on computer screens or in theater seats. But considering the range of options now available – Zumba, pole fitness, K-Pop choreography, just to name a few – and the benefits, maybe it’s high time more of us got out of our seats and got on the floor?
Here are five ways dancing can actually make your life better:
1. Strengthens the cardiovascular system
A UK study published in 2016 revealed that moderate-intensity dancing was linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular death among adults in middle age. This result shouldn’t really be much of a surprise since even the simplest dance routines involve bursts of high-intensity movement that engage multiple muscles.
Aside from its physical demands, dance also supports heart health by relieving stress! Those who might not respond as well to forms of cardio that are more explicitly ‘exercise’ (e.g. running or biking), the fun aspect of dance and its social nature help create a positive atmosphere that can help you relax, relieving strain on your mind and heart.
2. Improves posture
In 2008, fitness entrepreneur Sadie Lincoln created barre3, a workout system that was inspired by, among other things, ballet (hence the ‘barre’). This should be no surprise for those who, as children, donned a tutu for a summer: ballerinas are notorious for their ramrod-straight posture and the training it takes to get it.
Even if you’re way past your formative years, dancing can still help shape your body and recalibrate your posture! Since the art form emphasizes balance, dancers often engage their core muscles which, when built up, can help support the spine. As most dance styles – especially traditional forms such as ballet and ballroom – emphasize clean ‘lines’, you’ll get used to standing straight and tall in order to achieve the graceful look required of dancesport.
3. Builds flexibility and muscle strength
If you’ve ever watched a street-dance performance, you might be familiar with the concept of ‘isolation’, a dance technique that breaks the body into ‘regions’ that can be moved independently from the rest of the body. This obviously requires a significant amount of muscle control and it isn’t only practiced in street-dance: all dance styles have at least one technique that requires you to learn to stretch and work those individual muscle groups.
The result? Improved range of motion, a more even distribution of muscle strength, and greater awareness on how to properly use certain muscles in order to avoid injuries.
4. Boosts memory
It’s obvious that dancing helps improve the body, but did you know it can also help exercise the mind? According to a German medical study, senior citizens who were given dance exercises – specifically those that required them to learn new and challenging choreography on a regular basis – showed an increase in gray matter: the brain matter that is most associated with improved long-term memory. In particular, this part of the brain is what decreases with Alzheimer’s, establishing a potential link between this particular form of physical activity and warding off dementia later in life.
Some specialists speculate that learning choreography regularly helps exercise neuroplasticity or the quality of the brain that allows it to make and remake new neural connections. Not only does dancing make you more physically agile; it seems to make your brain more flexible too!
5. Maintains mental health
I mentioned at the start of 2018, I decided to learn to dance but what I didn’t mention was why. A year before my first ever dance lesson, I was diagnosed with dysthymia, a mild but cyclical form of depression that made it difficult for me to sustain energy and elevated moods while also trapping me in my own head. A friend suggested that I pick up an activity that would force me to focus on something else at least for a little while, but it took me the better part of that year to work up the courage to start dancing.
Once I did though, I found that the way it made me feel good was almost addictive. Part of this you could probably attribute to the serotonin boost that comes with most workouts, but it wasn’t just that: the sheer joy of being able to lose myself in music and movement and to see myself improve did actually make me feel better. I won’t say I’m cured – my mental illness is on the mild side and dancing is definitely not a substitute for proper psychological treatment. The activity definitely helped me manage my moods and battle my bouts of low energy.
And it isn’t just me: multiple studies support a correlation between dancing and depression management, as well as helping with other disorders such as social anxiety and stress. Not only can you dance your way to a healthier life; it seems you can actually dance your way to a happier one!
Since I started dancing in 2018, I’ve seen a definite improvement in both my physical fitness and my body confidence to the point that I’m actually making it a goal to participate in a dance video by the end of the year!
But even if your ambitions aren’t as lofty as mine, busting a move on the regular is proven to better your life. So what are you waiting for? Time to get on the floor!