How beneficial is dancing for our physical and mental health?

In our previous blog, we explored the concept of gardening as an alternative form of activity that, for most people, wouldn’t normally be considered structured exercise. Here, we continue on the theme of thinking (or rather, exercising) outside the box by delving into the notion of dance as a form of unsung structured activity.

We all know that a good dancing session can really work up a sweat but just how beneficial is dancing for our physical and mental wellbeing?

Let’s find out…

Dancing and mental health: a dynamic duo

Dancing is defined as ‘the act of stepping or moving rhythmically to music’.

For some, it’s a day job, like Zumba instructors, professional dancers and choreographers. For others, it’s a casual but natural instinct when their favourite song comes on the radio, or when they’re out on the town with friends.

Dancing is about more than just movement though; dancing can have a positive impact on mental health and cognitive function too.

What we know so far:

Depression – Dance Therapy, which involves structured sessions of dancing, focussed movement and breathwork, has been extensively studied for mental health benefits, such as treating depression.

The physical activity involved is believed to release anti-depressive chemicals (or ‘happy hormones’) like serotonin, which are known to boost mood.

Evidence isn’t yet fully conclusive on the positive impact of dancing on depression but all the signs are pointing in the right direction.

Dance Therapy is also thought to be an effective outlet for emotion and self-awareness, for those who prefer non-verbal expression.

Brain function – Interestingly, during studies, contemporary dance was found to be the most effective at maintaining cognition in older adults, improving reaction time, memory and decision-making.

Lets get physical

The majority of dance research (so far) has been carried out in older adults as it’s an extremely accessible activity and comes with fewer barriers than attending a gym or fitness class, for example.

Here’s what the literature is saying:

Balancing body fat and muscle mass – Sadly, there’s no evidence yet to support the use of dancing to reduce body mass or body composition. However, dancing can certainly contribute to daily activity levels, which have a plethora of benefits – both physical and mental.

In fact, evidence shows that a short 30-minute dance session can rack up between 2500-3000 steps!

Strength and stamina – Five studies in ballroom dancing found an increase in muscular strength and endurance when completed at least twice a week, for 3 months or more.

Overall health – For those aged 60+, there’s an increase, on average, of 7.5% body fat per decade, and a 2% decrease in lean muscle mass. But for those who were regularly dancing (2-3 times per week for 45+ minutes) this wasn’t the case, meaning better overall health was preserved.

Key takeaways:

Dancing is a great form of physical activity, as well as being a whole lot of fun. However, it doesn’t appear to be effective enough on its own when it comes to improving health in younger or middle-aged adults.

For older adults, dancing could be an effective way to stay active, maintain strong mental health and prevent negative physical health decline.

Dancing appears to be a globally successful way to improve mental health and boost mood.

Words of wisdom:

“Life is short and there will always be dirty dishes, so let’s dance!” – James Howe