We all know that getting regular exercise is good for us. But did you know that dancing is even better for you than many other forms of exercise? Lately I have been reading all about the benefits of dancing, and I thought I would share with you what I have found.
THE BENEFITS OF AEROBIC EXERCISE
According to Dr Peter Attia (a Stanford-trained physician whose focus is the applied science of longevity), the most potent longevity drug is exercise. The equivalent of 20-25 minutes per day of moderate aerobic exercise is associated with a 20-30 percent reduction in the risk of premature death. Regular exercise also reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke, improves cognition, assists with maintaining a healthy weight, reduces the risk of falls in older age, helps balance hormones and improves sleep.
Aerobic exercise also powers our mitochondria, the little cellular engines that burn glucose and fat to provide us with energy and are fundamental to every process in our body. Healthy mitochondria are fostered by exercise at a moderate pace … where your heartrate is elevated, but you can still carry on a conversation. Moderate exercise also helps with cognition by increasing blood flow to the brain and by stimulating the production of substances that help prevent Alzheimer's.
More intensive aerobic exercise (where you push hard for a few minutes) helps with your rate of utilizing oxygen … increasing this rate by any amount will apparently improve your life and your longevity. Never Stop Dancing classes move from routines that involve moderate aerobic exercise through to 1 or 2 tracks per class (online or in person) that have more intensive aerobic exercise, so you get all the benefits described above.
the benefits of dancing
But then we get to the benefits of dancing. According to Dr Julia F Christensen (a dancer turned neuroscientist), dancing has been shown to be better than traditional fitness exercises for improving your muscles, your balance, your memory and even the size of your brain.
THE DANCING BRAIN
According to Dr Susan Hillier (Professor of Neuroscience and Rehabilitation at the University of South Australia) “If you wired people’s brains up while they were dancing, they’d be shining like a Christmas tree …. Much more so than with other, more basic kinds of physical activity”. In fact, humans are the only species that have a specific connection between their ears and the large muscles of their body … which means we are actually hardwired to move our body to a rhythm.
Dancing increases the volume of the hippocampus – the area of the brain that deals with spatial memory, and it increases that volume more than traditional fitness exercises do. Dancing also improves white matter in the areas of the brain associated with processing speed and memory. Other traditional forms of fitness exercises do not show the same white matter changes. As a result, dancing is associated with a 76% reduced risk of developing dementia.
Dancing has also been shown to trigger new connections in our brains, which contributes to neuroplasticity which is linked to improvements in memory, and also helps protect us from cognitive decline and dementia. It improves our attention and makes us better at multi-tasking and planning. I guess it makes perfect sense that learning new steps, moves and choreography is going to be a work-out for all the parts of your brain associated with spatial awareness, memory and learning.
MENTAL HEALTH & WELLBEING
Dancing raises serotonin, which helps to boost your mood, and reduce anxiety and depression. It is also great for our immune system. Having stress hormones in the bloodstream for too long lowers the effectiveness of our immune system, making us more susceptible to diseases. Listening to music can lower the levels of stress hormones in the bloodstream, but dancing to music has an even greater impact on reducing those stress hormones. Reducing stress hormones in the body is particularly important during perimenopause and menopause, when a lack of estrogen can cause stress hormones to spike, resulting in an increased risk of depression, as well as weight gain and increased cholesterol levels.
SOCIAL & FUN BENEFITS OF DANCING
Whether you dance at home or in a group, dancing is a form of aerobic exercise that is fun. You are simply more likely to stick with a fun activity versus an activity that feels like a chore. So, you are more likely to reap the long-term physical and mental benefits of dancing simply because it is easier to keep doing it.
If you dance in a group, then you also get the social benefits of dancing. Moving in synchronicity with others actually helps build group cohesion, ie it helps us bond with the other people in class. In a 2016 study, 94 people participated in a “silent disco” where they learned dance routines and danced together wearing headphones with music. While some groups were fully synchronized, grooving with the same moves to the same tunes, other groups learned a different order of moves or danced to different music altogether. Ultimately, people who danced completely in sync felt closer to each other compared to the others. This must be why so many great friendships are formed in NSD classes.
The benefits set out above are not exhaustive, and I am certainly no expert. But I can vouch for the physical, mental, emotional, hormonal and social benefits that I have experienced since I started Never Stop Dancing. I believe that there is a very good reason why people from every corner of the globe, have always come together to celebrate the important moments in life with music, singing and dancing. These activities, when combined, are uniquely human … they boost our bodies, our brains, our mood, and our connection to each other. We came here to dance, and we should never stop!!