Have you ever noticed the joy on people’s faces while dancing to some upbeat music? Or have you, when sad, listened to some music to suit your mood and found yourself automatically swaying to the rhythm? Music might evoke or even enhance certain emotions, but it also tends to get the feet tapping and the body swaying. In other words, it gets you dancing, right? The health benefits of dancing tend to have a positive influence on your body and psyche. But there is more to dancing that we do not even “see” with the naked eye.
Dancing may be seen as a form of escape or a means of getting into shape. Have you noticed that when you’re feeling down, putting on some music and dancing — even if only just swaying back and forth — helps you to take your mind off your troubles and get caught up in the movement? For those who are carrying around a few pounds too many, dancing not only offers you a means of toning your muscles and getting fit, it also actively helps you trim off some of those extra pounds. In effect, the health benefits of dancing benefit you both physically and psychologically.
An added bonus is that you can do it anywhere with no need to join a gym or buy expensive equipment. No tools are required. All that’s needed is a little music, and you.
The type of workout you end up getting depends entirely on you. What kind of movements do you make? What is the intensity of your dancing? Are all muscle groups getting a workout? Are you concentrating on certain moves that need more complex execution and balances a part of your routine?
Interestingly, social dancing may give you even more of a cardiovascular workout than a dance routine. This is because endurance tends to come into play, as you may dance with others (i.e. exercise) for a much longer period than you would at home. Structured dancing sees you working out in quick bursts, and is more often focused on style and specific moves and muscle groups. No matter where you dance, however, the end result is what matters.
What are the Health Benefits of Dancing?
Dancing impacts just about all aspects of our wellbeing.
Dancing and Mood
Dancing can be a means of catharsis. When you find yourself in a situation where you feel despondent, dancing seems to get rid of your ‘blues’. It gives you a means of expression that many of us do not have with words. What is more, it is something you can do privately, with only the four walls present to see you in the act. The opposite is also true when something catchy and fun plays on the radio. You might start tapping your toe, and soon find yourself dancing joyfully, letting the music dictate each movement. Afterward, you are left gasping for breath, but with a huge smile on your face. You had some fun. You do not have to be a great dancer to get these health benefits of dancing.
Dancing and Physical Health
But besides getting you out of a bad space or being a fun activity, it does wonders for your body as well. Depending on the type of dancing you engage in, and besides getting a good workout, you strengthen your core and get a cardiovascular workout. Ballet, for example, is focused on stretching the muscles and balance, with an emphasis on motor skill improvement. Social dancing, on the other hand, develops endurance.
These benefits are not only for the young, however. The health benefits of dancing are great for older adults as well.
Dancing and Cognitive Decline
Cognitive decline is a fact of life for many older people. Those in the medical field have, for decades, tried to find innovative ways to slow down this phenomenon. Research into this trend looked at adults ranging in the age of sixty and noticed no signs of decline in their memory. The group had to take part in one of three activities, i.e. stretching and balance training, taking brisk walks, or participating in dance classes. Those in the dance classes participated in country dancing three times a week.
The brain scans taken at the end of the study for each individual was compared to the one taken prior to the onset of these activities. The group that fared the best was the one partaking in the dance activities. Their brains had undergone less deterioration than those in the other two groups. Dancing, or more specifically taking part in dance classes, not only involves movement but memory and learning. This is unlike the scenario with regards to aerobic exercises or workouts involving stretching.
Dancing Provides an Escape Mechanism
Dancing for fun gives us a mental break; an escape, if you will, from our usual work activities and its related stress. A study conducted in 2014 concurs that dancing, for recreational purposes, saw participants less tense and having more energy, especially when compared to competitive dancers. In the case of the latter group, their stress levels were found to be on par with those of professional athletes.
Dancing gives off much of the same endorphins as those given off while running. These endorphins make you feel good. Dancing also gives you the opportunity to focus only on yourself, your body, and your thoughts, or to escape from them if you so wish.
Dance, in adolescent females, has a positive effect on mental health, according to a study by the American Medical Association. According to the study, girls who danced were positive and more confident after dancing, with reports of feeling better overall after partaking in structured dance classes focusing on the enjoyment of motion instead of performance and perfection.
Interestingly, the positive feeling of euphoria many people experience when endorphins are released while dancing can be compared to a “runner’s high,” when a runner pushes through the boundaries of tiredness, receiving a rush of endorphins that enables them to complete the race with energy to spare.
Dancing Improves Balance and Coordination
Older people and younger children tend to injure themselves due to balance and/or problems with coordination. In fact, it is estimated that approximately a quarter of adults over the age of 65 falls each year. There is one very simple solution to getting hurt due to a fall: fall the way a dancer does.
Dance teaches body awareness while encouraging low-impact landings. These techniques are not only great for dancers, but also for anyone playing sports, older adults, and developing motor skills in younger children.
Interestingly, athletes tend to have more injuries than dancers do. When you compare dancers to athletes, the former have fewer knee injuries due to certain exercises that result in less force generated throughout the body. These controlled movements, when taught to those partaking in high-impact sports, may result in a decline in joint injuries.
Dancing is for All Ages
There is absolutely no age limit to dancing. Anyone can take part, no matter your age. Nobody is excluded when it comes to enjoying the health benefits of dancing. This is mostly because there are no rules when it comes to dancing, with all types of dance being accessible to all. Dancing integrates the mind, body, and soul, allowing all these parts of your body and psyche to participate in an activity that not only addresses physical fitness issues but mental issues as well. Whether you can only sway around, or whether you find yourself hopping and jumping and doing the splits, it is the enjoyment that counts while your body reaps the benefits.
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and the Health Benefits of Dancing
Dancing may address some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, a condition not officially recognized by conventional medicine. Symptoms of this condition vary from one person to the next, and to a large extent depends on the stage of the condition you are in. The first stages have your adrenal glands producing high (increasing) amounts of cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone.
When your body undergoes the stress of any type, be it physical, psychological, or environmental in nature, your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis kicks in. As part of the Neuroendometabolic (NEM) stress response, the HPA axis is responsible for taking care of all aspects of your body in order for you to survive. When a threat is perceived, the hypothalamus in the brain sends signals to the pituitary gland, signaling a threat. In response, signals are sent to the adrenal glands situated on either kidney to produce higher levels of cortisol as well as adrenaline. These two hormones are responsible for the fight or flight response. Once the threat has passed, the hypothalamus signals to the pituitary gland that in turn instructs the adrenals to stop with the increased cortisol production. These instructions passing from one member of the HPA axis to the other are sent by means of chemical messengers (i.e. neurotransmitters).
Persistent stress and the accompanying high cortisol production, however, can have devastating effects on the body, resulting in adrenal burnout (when the adrenals are no longer able to produce the needed cortisol resulting in very low cortisol levels) and even death. Amongst these are included:
- Hormone imbalances
- A tendency to gain/lose weight
- High incidences of flu and respiratory disease
- A lowered libido
- Brain fog
- Lack of energy/constantly feeling tired
- Increased PMS problems
- Upper back and neck pain without a clear reason
- Dry/thinning skin
- Hair loss
- Heart palpitations
Please note that each of these symptoms of themselves may not indicate adrenal fatigue, but if you have a few of them, it may be indicative of the condition.
The Dance Connection
Regular exercise, including dancing, releases endorphins in the brain that, when reacting with certain receptors in the brain, reduce your perception of pain. These endorphins also “make you feel good”, and are responsible for what is commonly called the “runner’s high”, where a runner pushed past a certain threshold of tiredness and pain and gets what is known as his “second wind”.
But endorphins do not only act as analgesics (i.e. diminishing pain perception). They also act as sedatives (i.e. suppress pain). Manufactured in the brain and other parts of the body, endorphins are released in the brain in response to chemical messengers, i.e. neurotransmitters. Take note that neurotransmitters are responsible for the work done by the HPS axis in response to stress.
So what is the connection between cortisol and endorphins?
It is very simple. Endorphins make you feel good, telling your brain (and thus your body) that everything is fine. This allows the adrenals to lower their cortisol production as the threat has gone. Dancing, as well as other forms of exercise such a yoga, for example, instigate the release of the endorphins. The result may have a benefit on all aspects of adrenal fatigue and its recovery.
The Benefits of Endorphins
Endorphins allow for a decrease in cortisol production. This implies a positive impact on ‘normal’ hormone production, as high-stress periods see a decline in the production of certain hormones, including progesterone and testosterone, amongst others. A lowered cortisol production also has a positive impact on your immune system and gut health, ensuring good gut bacteria flourishes and negating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Furthermore, weight gain is one of the symptoms of a hormonal imbalance. The health benefits of dancing thus not only serve to burn fat, it helps to stabilize hormones as well.