Dancing Isn't Just Fun -- It's Really Good For Your Health


It's time to get your groove on.

Dancing has a way of taking your cares away. It doesn't matter if it's the Electric Slide, the Macarena or your own crazy moves. Who hasn't gotten lost in an upbeat song as they jumped around?

But not only does it feel good to the soul, dancing also has some major health perks. Research shows dancing can improve your mental health by boosting your overall happiness. If you're looking for a reason to shake it off today, check out some of the benefits below. Dance party, anyone?

Dancing is a great cardio workout.
Like any good, low-impact cardio workout, dancing can improve cardiovascular health, increase stamina, strengthen bones and muscles and stave off illnesses. But aside from the perks associated any heart-pounding activity, dancing has a cardio edge with unique benefits that actually can't be achieved by other low-impact exercises.

"Dancing can give you more than traditional cardio," Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist and education team member for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, told HuffPost.

Comana describes five components of fitness: cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, muscular endurance, body composition and muscular strength. An activity like running on the treadmill may improve cardiovascular endurance and body composition, but an activity like dancing can actually target those two as well as muscular endurance and flexibility. And that's on top of improved balance, agility, coordination, power, reactivity and speed, he explains.

But we're not talking slow dances here -- to count as true cardio, Comana suggests aiming for an exertion level somewhere between a 5 and a 7 on a scale where 1 is resting and 10 is the hardest thing you can do. Try the talk test: You shouldn't be so out of breath that you can't speak, but your words should be a little choppy and your breath heavy.
It's fun.
"If exercise is not an enjoyable experience, we're not going to do it," Comana said. And the bottom line is that dancing is, plain and simple, fun in the way a monotonous treadmill run probably never will be. Plus, busting a move can trigger the release of feel good hormones like serotonin and endorphins.

"People think, 'I'm not exercising, I'm dancing,'" he continued. "But at the end of the day, you're moving and you're burning calories. It's just as good as a cardio class."

And, as fitness expert Tracey Mallet explains, not only will you be more likely to stick with a fitness routine if it's fun, but you'll also want to do it for longer. "This will push you to move for a longer period of time than typical exercise, purely because it's a lot of fun and not the dreaded word 'exercise,'" she told HuffPost. "Dance inspires people to get in shape with something they love to do, which doesn't feel like dreaded exercise or a bad chore, but fun and exhilarating."
It can be a social activity.
As much as we all love to dance when there's nobody watching, there's something irresistible about dancing with other people, whether it's with a partner or a class-full of fellow booty shakers.

"Group fitness is seeing a surge in popularity because of Zumba," Comana said. And working out in a class can help to up the difficulty level and increase accountability.
Anyone can dance.
"The nice thing about dance is that it's inclusive," Comana explained. "Exercise is not inclusive, some people feel like they don't have the skill set and they're embarrassed ... I think anyone can just start to dance and enjoy the experience."

Nervous about dancing in front of people? Start out in your own living room, moving to a song you just can't resist. "There is a dancer in all of us," Mallett said, "and when we move our body to the music we naturally smile and want to keep moving."

And don't let two left feet keep you from joining in on the fun. "Don't get intimidated because you feel like you're not a good dancer. Who cares?" Mallett stressed. "It's about you moving your body in your way not like the rest of the people in the class. Zone out and focus on how great you feel and that no one is judging your abilities."
It can keep your brain sharp.
We've all heard by now that lifestyle habits like aiming for better sleep can help to keep your brain sharp. But, according to one study, so can dancing.

The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that getting footloose on a regular basis is linked with a 76 percent reduction in dementia risk -- about as much as playing board games or a musical instrument. Other physical activities, such as bicycling, walking and doing housework, weren't associated with any decreased risk.
It's gentle on the body.
The wide variety of moves (anyone up for the robot?) that we bust out when boogying down can actually be a lifesaver for your body, as you're avoiding the wear and tear of repetitive motions.

"It's not so repetitive as we're constantly combining exercises together in different combinations and developing fun innovative moves that you typically would not find in low-impact cardio aerobic classes," Mallett said.

Unlike more traditional cardio, which is very structured and vigorous, dancing is more free, allowing you to adjust the tempo when your body needs a break, Comana explains. "What I like about dance is dance is free flowing," he said. "It's less traumatic on the body ... You don't have to worry about going hard, you can always slow down."
Dancing can improve your balance.
Each year, one out of every three adults over the age of 65 will fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One thing that could help? Strapping on your dancing shoes.

A research review found that dancing, as well as carrying objects while walking, can help to improve balance and ultimately reduce dangerous falls. "It is well worth the elderly putting their favorite music on at home and having a little jig," study researcher Tracey Howe told The Telegraph.
You don't need a lot of equipment.
Interested in starting up a dance-based fitness routine? You really don't need a thing to get started. "The easiest solution is to put on your favorite music and move your body in your living room, which alone will burn lots of calories," Mallett said. "For a more structured workout buy an exercise dance DVD."

So go ahead, dance like there's nobody watching. It's for your health.

A previous version of this article by Laura Schocker appeared in April 2012.

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