Not all of us are dancers. I myself have two left feet and the grace of the Tin Man.
Yet all of us should dance. Why? Because dancing, like vegetables, is good for our health.
Of course, it is easy to make claims on dancing's supposed benefits—but finding the evidence to support those claims is much, much harder.
Fortunately, the men and women of science have taken an interest in finding the evidence for us.
So let's see what scientific research has uncovered as the true benefits of dancing, and why we should all be doing it.
1. Better balance. In 2016, the biomedical journal Public Health published the results of a small study done on 72 elderly men and women, half of whom had been dancers in their youth while the other half were not. The investigators found that the dancers had significantly better balance than their non-dancing counterparts.
Why is this important?
As we age, falling becomes a major health risk. One of life's perverse realities is that our balance tends to decline at the same time that our bones become more brittle and easier to break.
A bad fall could keep one sedentary for a long time, and if the victim had already been in bad shape even before the fall, the prolonged period of inactivity could result in that person never getting up again.
By preserving our balance, dancing helps us to stay active and strong longer, so we have more years in the future to enjoy the beautiful lives we are working so hard to make for ourselves today.
2. Healthier heart. Or, to put it in more real-world terms, "a smaller chance that you will die from a heart attack or stroke."
According to a 2016 study that compiled the data of a whopping 48,000 participants, moderate-intensity walking and dancing are both associated with fewer deaths from heart disease.
But between these two workouts, the researchers also found that dancing was more beneficial to the heart because people who dance are more likely to increase their workout intensity, stay with the activity longer, and they gain psychosocial benefits from it as well.
In case you failed to appreciate the huge significance of heart health as a benefit, take a moment to consider how many people you know have died from a heart attack or stroke.
That's no coincidence. Heart disease is a top cause of death in the world, and these days, it is no longer a disease of the elderly. Strokes kill adults even in their twenties.
Cancer is another top cause of death. Statistics say around 20% of people get cancer these days. That is one out of every five people. In other words, if you have four friends or family members, cancer is probably going to strike one person in that group, which includes you.
Now, why are we talking about cancer in the section about heart health?
When you undergo cancer treatment, which is harsh because it is fighting a harsh disease, the strength of your heart can determine whether you make it through treatment alive.
3. Reduced depression. A 2016 study published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing described a qualitative study done on 16 adults in relation to depression and social isolation.
The researchers found that after 12 weeks of line dancing, the participants said they felt more socially accepted and had a greater sense of connection with others.
4. Independence and purpose. Now here are some benefits of dance that we don't often hear about. These results came out after 22 women did Zumba for eight weeks.
At the end of the study, when the investigators assessed the women's cardiovascular fitness, body measurements, and self-perception and compared those data with those of another group of 22 women who did not participate in the dance, the investigators found that the Zumba dancers came out of the program not just with greater aerobic fitness and more developed muscles but also with a greater sense of independence and purpose in life.
(They didn't get much thinner, though.)
5. Rehabilitative physical therapy. Most of us think of dancing as a way to stay healthy. But as it turns out, it's also a good way to regain the health we've already lost.
In 2015, the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine published a study that showed dancing was better than Nordic walking (walking with poles), aerobic training, and boxing for improving the mobility and quality of life of people with Parkinson's disease.
Choose Your Dance
If you're already dancing, you probably don't need suggestions on what to try, so this section was written with non-dancers in mind.
With all the kinds of dances out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed with your options.
So let's keep things simple. Here are two dances that might be suitable for people just starting out:
Line dancing. C'mon everybody, let's do the conga! Even non-dancers will find line dancing very un-intimidating and fun.
Line dancing doesn't expect you to look graceful or be very skillful. If you can play Simon Says, you can line dance!
Aerobic dancing. This iS another good option for people who do not see themselves as dancers because aerobic dancing tends to sound more like regular exercise than dance. But it's much more fun!
The steps are simple and repetitive, so they are easy to follow. And, unlike many dances we see today, you wear comfortable shoes and clothes.
Having said that, there are two popular dances today that one has to be careful about.
To be clear, we're not saying you should avoid them; we're just saying, "Be careful."
The first one is Zumba. According to a Consumer Reports article, health care professionals have been seeing a rise in Zumba-related injuries, and it's not just because more people are doing it.
Zumba by its very nature can be a dangerous way to dance because it involves a lot of side-to-side movements. Unfortunately, our bodies have evolved to move forward, not sideward. (When was the last time you walked sideways to the bus stop?)
The result of prolonged side-to-side Zumba-ing is often injured knees, hips, and ankles.
Pole dancing is another dance you need to be extra careful of. Popular among the adventurous, pole dancing is unusually demanding on your joints and back. It challenges gravity, and as you must know by now, in most battles between man or woman and gravity, gravity almost always wins in the end.
Pole dancing injuries can range from mild bruises and sprains to dislocated joints and serious contusions.
Also, if your pole is not properly sanitized, you could get an ugly Staphylococcus or Streptococcus infection as well.
Of course, if pole dancing or Zumba is what gets you excited to get moving, by all means, do it! Just don't overexert yourself, find a good instructor, and learn to do the dance correctly and gradually.
Not all of us are dancers, but all of us can dance. With the right rhythm and beat, our feet start tapping, our heads start nodding, our bodies start moving in a silent, muffled swing-and-sway.
Why hold it in? Let the moves out! The beat calls and the human spirit answers to it. Feel your feet tapping, your head nodding, your hips and shoulders swaying. Let the music carry you to better health.
Now, why are you still sitting? Get up and dance!