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5 health benefits of dance

5 Health Benefits of Dance

Al Waller: Dance is the movement of the body in a rhythmic way, usually to music, for the purpose of expressing oneself, releasing energy, or simply for pleasure. This movement can be improvised, or purposefully selected, and as it turns out, it also has a host of health benefits.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller. With us to discuss some of the compelling health benefits of dance is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®. Today, she’ll be walking us through five ways dance can benefit our health.

Before we get started, I’d like to remind you that if you have any topic ideas you’d like to hear about, please reach out to us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!

Mihaela, welcome back to the show today.

Mihaela Vincze: Hi Al - happy to be here!

Al Waller: So, shall we dance? Or maybe, we should just talk about it – in terms of what kind of benefits dance offers.

Mihaela Vincze: Dance provides many health benefits. It allows us to express ourselves like you said earlier—we can really show how we are feeling through dance. Dancing also may provide a sense of community; it allows people from all walks of life to come together and make memories that they can look back on fondly. Dance also is very fun— it provides entertainment for ourselves and those around us. You truly can become lost when you’re in the present moment, dancing.

Al Waller: I'd have to agree with you there. Cutting loose and dancing can be quite liberating and a lot of fun too, especially with good company. But that said, how is dancing good for us?

Mihaela Vincze: Dancing has many health benefits, but to start us off, I want to touch on its heart health benefits. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people who engaged in moderate-intensity dancing were 46 percent less likely to develop heart disease or die from it than nondancers, over 10 years of follow-up. Researchers believe this is because dancing is high intensity, can be a lifelong commitment, and it can have psychosocial benefits.

Al Waller: That’s really interesting but makes me wonder – what would be considered as moderate intensity?

Mihaela Vincze: In the study referenced, moderate intensity was defined as enough to make you out of breath or feeling sweaty.

Al Waller: Interesting. That makes sense because not unlike, say physical gymnastics, different types of dancing might lead to different intensities of exercise and carry varying degrees of benefits.

Could you now speak to some of the physical benefits that dancing might offer?

Mihaela Vincze: Dance might improve flexibility, which can help us avoid injuries. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that cross-country skiers who received months of dance training showed improvements in joint mobility and muscle flexibility of the spine. Flexibility is important because it can help us improve our posture, help with muscle coordination, and it reduces the likelihood of muscle soreness.

Al Waller: That’s fascinating, and I am always looking for new ways to exercise, while at the same time protecting my joints and body in the process. Besides these physical benefits, what sort of impact does dancing have on our brain?

Mihaela Vincze: That’s a really good question because dancing may lower the risk of cognitive decline and may prevent memory loss. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, dancing was the only physical activity that was associated with a lower risk of dementia, compared to other forms of physical activities such as bicycling, stair climbing, swimming, group exercise, and walking. This could be because dancing offers cognitive challenge, social engagement, and it’s a cardio exercise.

Al Waller: I really like what I’m hearing, Mihaela, because it almost seems too good to be true to have such an enjoyable activity provide so many benefits.

And regarding your reference of dance and lowering risk of dementia, I'm reminded of our recent podcast on boosting brain health with music, which attributed similar benefits to the listening of familiar and favored music, as well. So, I’ve really got to believe that the combination of these two, music and dance, is a pretty powerful tandem and worth pursuing regardless of your age.

Now, if dancing might prove beneficial to our brain health, any chance dancing might offer similar benefits to our mental health?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that dance movement therapy (DMT), specifically, was effective in treating depression. The American Dance Therapy Association defined DMT as the “psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual, all for the purpose of improving health and well-being.” Note that dancing raises levels of serotonin, the happy hormone, and helps lower stress, which may help explain its effect on mental health.

Al Waller: Well again, these benefits of dancing appear almost limitless, but are these effects sustainable for us as humans as we age? What does your research reveal in terms of how dancing impacts older populations?

Mihaela Vincze: It’s pretty promising. A review published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that dancing could improve balance, gait, agility, endurance, and much more. They also found that dancing may improve bone mineral density—with other research suggesting that adults with osteoporosis who dance, may potentially have the chronic condition reversed.

Al Waller: That sounds amazing and extremely encouraging! As I think about it, I've attended some milestone celebrations – for instance, anniversaries and weddings – attended by some “super seniors”. And I'll tell you, when the band kicks into some of the old standards, some of these octogenarians can really – well, I can't say “bust a move” – but they groove at their own pace and appear almost physically transported back in time. It’s really pretty cool to witness.

Do you have any suggestions for those who want to infuse more dancing into their daily lives?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, learn the different types of dance, and try different dance styles so you can become proficient at different kinds. Try dancing with many different people, as their interpretation of the music might give you a new way of approaching that dance.

Be inspired! Sometimes we need to get back in the groove, which can really help motivate us to want to dance. You can do this by watching dancers perform some of your favorite choreography.

Al Waller: You may have just inspired me to resurrect some of those dance moves that I haven’t put into play in a long time. What steps (no pun intended) would you recommend for those who are new to dancing?

Mihaela Vincze: Sure…

  • See your doctor for a check-up if you have a medical condition, are overweight, or are over 40 and have not exercised regularly for a long time before you begin to dance.
  • Always wear proper shoes and attire.
  • Warm up before you start dancing.
  • Practice at home. By practicing at home, you can become comfortable with moving your body without overthinking it—which may happen if you try for the first time in public. Don't despair if you don't do it right the first time; the consistency will help you.
  • Take lessons. You can take dance lessons in person or online, which can help you learn some of the basics. In person lessons can be either group classes or private lessons.
  • Trust your intuition about your limits. If something looks a little too complex for you, really listen to your gut.

Al Waller: Good advice there – and outstanding research, Mihaela. Here’s hoping our listeners will be motivated to “get their groove back” from time to time because the benefits of dancing for our health and wellbeing is really just too good to pass by.

If you’d like to check out any of the source materials mentioned today, visit transamericainstitute.org/podcast to review the episode’s transcript.

We hope you’ll join us for future episodes, and don’t miss our recent episodes on “Social Security Explained” and “Boosting Brain Health with Music.”

If you have comments, feedback, or topic ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss an episode of ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about health and wellness, employment, financial literacy, longevity, and retirement.

You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.