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Dancing for Health

August 6, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

If I asked you to invent a form of physical activity that supports the body, mind and spirit, you’d be hard pressed to come up with something better than dancing. Let me start by telling you that I am not a dancer. When I do dance, the only benefit that I’m aware of is the laughter that it incites in others. It’s just not something that comes naturally to me. But that’s really beside the point. There are very good reasons to consider incorporating dance into your life. As odd as it may seem, scientists from all over world are asking their patients to put on their dancing shoes.

First, let’s put aside any pre-existing views we have about dance, including the common perception that non-professional dancing isn’t a serious endeavor. It most certainly is! A good portion of the benefits of dance takes place between the ears. The combination of choreographed and rhythmic movement, human touch, musical stimulation and social interaction literally light up the brain with electrical and neurochemical activity. Parts of the brain that rarely get mentioned, such as the amygdala, anterior cerebellar vermis, cingulate cortex and medial superior parietal lobule are just a few of the mysterious regions that are activated by simply putting our bodies in motion to music. Powerful chemicals with names like endorphins, endocannabinoids and dopamine are let loose. These unique substances help to raise our spirits and decrease sensations of pain, among other things. (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

The research about the physical benefits of dance is perhaps even more impressive. Recent studies have found that dancing is a particularly efficient manner of improving cardiovascular health, physical fitness and managing weight control. The best news about this line of study is that scientists from around the world are finding that just about any manifestation of this art form is comparable to or more effective than many standard exercises, such as walking. In addition there’s some evidence that suggests a lower drop-out rate in dancers as compared to those engaging in more conventional exercise routines. (8,9,10,11)

One area that’s received a great deal of medical interest as of late is the effect of dance on the senior population. A study in the July issue of the journal Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics divided a group of 111 seniors into two sections. Half of the men and women participated in 23 dance sessions over a 12 week period. The remainder of the group didn’t alter their normal weekly routines. The dancers showed improvements in several measures of physical fitness including positive changes in balance, endurance, flexibility, resting heart rate, strength and walking speed. The researchers also found a boost in psychological health and reductions in the perception of “bodily pain”. Other trials, such as a 15 week jazz dance class and 10 week Argentine tango dance program, similarly demonstrated benefits in balance, increased confidence levels and a reduction in falls. (12,13,14,15,16)

Improving balance not only promotes better quality of life, but also diminishes the devastating and immobilizing effects of bone fractures in the elder population. A 2007 study in the journal Osteoporosis International presents an additional reason to dance with joy. In that trial, 45 post menopausal women who practiced a modified form of line dancing demonstrated a bone preservation effect in their lower extremities. (17)

Source: American Cancer Society (link)

Yet another appealing aspect of this type of exercise is that it allows for cultural considerations. Some very wise scientists are finding that using region-specific forms of dance can improve the likelihood of long term health benefits and compliance in virtually any population that’s studied. Here are a few examples that would likely apply throughout the world:

  • Turkish Folklore Dance – A study of 40 elderly females from Turkey found that a “folkloric dance-based exercise” prompted excellent results with regard to balance, physical performance and quality of life. (18)
  • Latina Aerobic Dance – A “community-based, culturally tailored exercise intervention” utilizing aerobic dance brought about significant changes in cardiorespiratory fitness in a group of Latina women with ages ranging from 18 – 55. (19)
  • African American Church Dance – 126 African American women took part in twice weekly dance sessions held at churches over an 8 week period. There was an improvement in “functional capacity” in the women studied, who were aged 36 – 82. (20)
  • Hip Hop and Line Dancing – A study of young adults living in South Korea found that hip hop dancing brought about greater feelings of “positive well being”, lower levels of “psychological distress” and fatigue than aerobic exercise, body conditioning or ice skating. A scientific survey of older women in South Africa described the profound impact of line dancing in their culture. One women commented that “life without line dancing … would be too dreadful to imagine”. The author of that paper concluded that, “The impact of line dancing plainly goes beyond the perceived physical benefits”. (21,22)

Our bodies are meant to move, not sit around and watch endless hours of TV. Without a variety of interactive, sensory stimulation and constant challenges, the brain becomes bored and dysfunctional. Social isolation and a lack of human contact is as dangerous, if not more so, than any type of nutritional deficiency known to science. So why not get out there and take a dance class or two? Join a cultural or social group and move your body to the beat. Dance is seriously good for you, but you don’t need to take it too seriously. Have fun! Laugh and share the experience with others. It just might change your life and your health.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Heart Health

20 Comments & Updates to “Dancing for Health”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Interesting article. Golf is only better than slow walking. 🙂

  2. Christina Crowe Says:

    I absolutely love dancing! Though I’m not a professional dancer, I practice dancing in the mirror behind closed doors quite often. 🙂 Of course, I keep my door closed so that I don’t embarrass myself!

  3. JP Says:


    Brisk walking, dancing and yoga are a lot cheaper too. 🙂

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:


    Maybe we need to start a new dancing movement that strives to make others laugh? That way, we’ll get to dance (good for us) and others would laugh at us (good for them). Everybody wins. 🙂

    Be well!


  5. Christina Crowe Says:

    Haha, Jp. I think not! I would just die from embarrassment!

  6. JP Says:

    Nobody’s every died from embarrassment, Christina. 🙂

    Keep mirror dancing for now!

    Be well!


  7. Anonymous Says:

    I am also love to dance..but no knowledge about that right now..maybe a Salsa? >D

  8. Jaelle Says:

    FYI I just stared dancing. Guess who inspired me? MJ. Not that I’ll ever be like him, but I have been wanting to take some dance classes but wasn’t sure how good I’d be. I looked on youtube for some instructional videos and found a very thorough breakdown for how to dance the moves from the Thriller video. There are 40 very short lessons, in fact. All on youtube. Google it. The program is called “Thrill the World” and it’s free:) I’ve completed all the lessons in a week and I gotta say, I’m a much better dancer than I thought. It feels so good, and I’m so happy each time I master a new section. I’ve also noticed my body getting stronger, just from dancing a half hour to one hour a day. Dancing is THE BEST.

  9. JP Says:

    What a great story, Jaelle! Thanks for sharing that with us!

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Update 06/06/15:


    Complement Ther Med. 2015 Apr;23(2):210-9.

    Effects of dance on motor functions, cognitive functions, and mental symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: a quasi-randomized pilot trial.

    OBJECTIVE: To examine the effectiveness of dance on motor functions, cognitive functions, and mental symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD).

    DESIGN: This study employed a quasi-randomised, between-group design.

    SETTING: Dance, PD exercise, and all assessments were performed in community halls in different regions of Japan.

    PARTICIPANTS: Forty-six mild-moderate PD patients participated.

    INTERVENTION: Six PD patient associations that agreed to participate in the study were randomly assigned to a dance group, PD exercise group, or non-intervention group. The dance and PD exercise groups performed one 60-min session per week for 12 weeks. Control group patients continued with their normal lives. All groups were assessed before and after the intervention.

    MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: We used the Timed Up-and-Go Test (TUG) and Berg Balance Scale (BBS) to assess motor function, the Frontal Assessment Battery at bedside (FAB) and Mental Rotation Task (MRT) to assess cognitive function, and the Apathy Scale (AS) and Self-rating Depression Scale (SDS) to assess mental symptoms of PD. The Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) was used for general assessment of PD.

    RESULTS: When comparing results before and after intervention, the dance group showed a large effect in TUG time (ES=0.65, p=0.006), TUG step number (ES=0.66, p=0.005), BBS (ES=0.75, p=0.001), FAB (ES=0.77, p=0.001), MRT response time (ES=0.79, p<0.001), AS (ES=0.78, p<0.001), SDS (ES=0.66, p=0.006) and UPDRS (ES=0.88, p<0.001).

    CONCLUSIONS: Dance was effective in improving motor function, cognitive function, and mental symptoms in PD patients. General symptoms in PD also improved. Dance is an effective method for rehabilitation in PD patients.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Updated 09/14/15:


    J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Aug;27(8):2569-72.

    Cardiopulmonary effects of traditional Thai dance on menopausal women: a randomized controlled trial.

    [Purpose] This study evaluated the effects of Thai dance on cardiopulmonary factors in menopausal women. [Subjects] Sixty-six menopausal women aged 40 years or more. [Methods] Subjects were randomly assigned to either the Thai dance or control group. The Thai dance group performed a traditional Thai dancing exercise program for 60 minutes, 3 times per week for 6 weeks. The control group received general health guidance. The 6-minutewalk test, peak expiratory flow, forced vital capacity, forced expiratory volume in one second, maximal voluntary ventilation, and chest expansion were assessed at baseline and at the end of the study. [Results] Sixty-six menopausal women were eligible. At the end of the study, all variables were significantly better in the Thai dance group than the control group. Moreover, all variables improved significantly compared to baseline in the Thai dance group but not in the control group. For example, the mean 6-minutewalk test result in Thai dance group at the end of the study was 285.4 m, which was significantly higher than that at baseline (254.8 m) and the control group at baseline (247.0 m). [Conclusion] A 6-week Thai dance program improves cardiorespiratory endurance in menopausal women.

    Be well!


  12. JP Says:

    Updated 09/24/15:


    Altern Ther Health Med. 2015 Sep;21(5):64-70.

    The Effectiveness of Dance Interventions to Improve Older Adults’ Health: A Systematic Literature Review.

    Background • Physical inactivity is commonly observed among individuals aged ≥60 y. Identified barriers to sedentary older adults beginning activity include low self-efficacy, pre-existing medical conditions, physical limitations, time constraints, and culture. Dancing has the potential to be an attractive physical activity that can be adjusted to fit a target population’s age, physical limitations, and culture.

    Objectives • This review examined the benefits to physical health of dance interventions among older adults. Methods • Following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, a systematic search using the PubMed database was conducted. Eighteen studies met the inclusion and exclusion criteria and were analyzed for type of intervention, the study’s design, participants’ demographics, and outcomes, including attrition.

    Results • The 18 articles reported on studies conducted in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Of the styles of dancing, 6 studies used ballroom, 5 used contemporary, 4 used cultural, 1 used pop, and 2 used jazz. Two studies targeted older adults with pre-existing medical conditions. The average age of participants ranged from 52-87 y. Researchers used a variety of measures to assess effectiveness: (1) 3 of 5 (60%) that used measures to assess flexibility showed significant positive results; (2) 23 of 28 (82%) that used measures of muscular strength and endurance showed significant positive changes; (3) 8 of 9 (89%) that used measures of balance showed significant positive changes; (4) 8 of 10 (80%) that used measures of cognitive ability showed significant positive changes; and (5) the one that measured cardiovascular endurance showed significant positive changes. Only 6 studies reported participation, and they found low attrition.

    Conclusions • The findings suggest that dance, regardless of its style, can significantly improve muscular strength and endurance, balance, and other aspects of functional fitness in older adults. Future researchers may want to analyze the effects of dance on mental health and explore ways to make this intervention attractive to both genders. Standardizing outcome measures for dance would facilitate meta-analysis.

    Be well!


  13. JP Says:

    Updated 02/23/16:


    J Sports Sci. 2015 Nov 16:1-9.

    The health-enhancing efficacy of Zumba® fitness: An 8-week randomised controlled study.

    The purpose of this study was to gain a holistic understanding of the efficacy of Zumba® fitness in a community-recruited cohort of overweight and physically inactive women by evaluating (i) its physiological effects on cardiovascular risk factors and inflammatory biomarkers and (ii) its mental health-enhancing effects on factors of health-related quality of life (HRQoL). Participants were randomly assigned to either engagement in one to two 1 h classes of Zumba® fitness weekly (intervention group; n = 10) or maintenance of habitual activity (control group; n = 10). Laboratory assessments were conducted pre- (week 0) and post-intervention (week 8) with anthropometric, physiological, inflammatory and HRQoL data collected. In the intervention group, maximal oxygen uptake significantly increased (P < 0.05; partial η2 = 0.56) by 3.1 mL · kg-1 · min-1, per cent body fat significantly decreased (P < 0.05; partial η2 = 0.42) by -1.2%, and interleukin-6 and white blood cell (WBC) count both significantly decreased (P < 0.01) by -0.4 pg · mL-1 (partial η2 = 0.96) and -2.1 × 109 cells · L-1 (partial η2 = 0.87), respectively. Large magnitude enhancements were observed in the HRQoL factors of physical functioning, general health, energy/fatigue and emotional well-being. When interpreted in a community-based physical activity and psychosocial health promotion context, our data suggest that Zumba® fitness is indeed an efficacious health-enhancing activity for adults Be well! JP

  14. JP Says:

    Updated 02/26/16:


    Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2016 Feb;16(1):e47-53.

    Effectiveness of a Combined Dance and Relaxation Intervention on Reducing Anxiety and Depression and Improving Quality of Life among the Cognitively Impaired Elderly.

    OBJECTIVES: Cognitive impairment is a common problem among the elderly and is believed to be a precursor to dementia. This study aimed to explore the effectiveness of a combined dance and relaxation intervention as compared to relaxation alone in reducing anxiety and depression levels and improving quality of life (QOL) and cognitive function among the cognitively impaired elderly.

    METHODS: This quasi-experimental study was conducted between May and December 2013 in Peninsular Malaysia. Subjects from four government residential homes for older adults aged ≥60 years with mild to moderate cognitive function as assessed by the Mini-Mental State Examination were included in the study. Subjects were divided into an intervention group and a control group; the former participated in a combined poco-poco dance and relaxation intervention whilst the latter participated in relaxation exercises only. Both groups participated in two sessions per week for six weeks. Anxiety and depression were self-assessed using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and QOL was self-assessed using the Quality of Life in Alzheimer’s Disease questionnaire.

    RESULTS: A total of 84 elderly subjects were included in the study; 44 were in the intervention group and 40 were in the control group. When compared to control subjects, those in the intervention group showed significantly decreased anxiety (P <0.001) and depression (P <0.001) levels as well as improved QOL (P <0.001) and cognitive impairment (P <0.001).

    CONCLUSION: Dance as a form of participation-based physical exercise was found to reduce anxiety and depression levels and improve QOL and cognitive function among the studied sample of cognitively impaired elderly subjects in Malaysia.

    Be well!


  15. JP Says:

    Updated 06/14/16:


    J Racial Ethn Health Disparities. 2015 Dec 22.

    Cultural Dance Program Improves Hypertension Management for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders: a Pilot Randomized Trial.

    OBJECTIVE: Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPI) bear an unequal burden of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Hula, the traditional dance of Hawaii, has shown to be a culturally meaningful form of moderate-vigorous physical activity for NHPI. A pilot study was done in Honolulu, Hawaii, to test a 12-week hula-based intervention, coupled with self-care education, on blood pressure management in NHPI with hypertension in 2013.

    METHOD: NHPI with a systolic blood pressure (SBP) ≥140 mmHg were randomized to the intervention (n = 27) or a wait-list control (n = 28). Blood pressure, physical functioning, and eight aspects of health-related quality of life (HRQL) were assessed.

    RESULTS: The intervention resulted in a reduction in SBP compared to control (-18.3 vs. -7.6 mmHg, respectively, p ≤ 0.05) from baseline to 3-month post-intervention. Improvements in HRQL measures of bodily pain and social functioning were significantly associated with SBP improvements in both groups.

    CONCLUSION: Using hula as the physical activity component of a hypertension intervention can serve as a culturally congruent strategy to blood pressure management in NHPI with hypertension.

    Be well!


  16. JP Says:

    Updated 07/22/16:


    Menopause. 2016 Jul 18.

    Effectiveness of a flamenco and sevillanas program to enhance mobility, balance, physical activity, blood pressure, body mass, and quality of life in postmenopausal women living in the community in Spain: a randomized clinical trial.

    OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to test the effectiveness of a dance therapy program in improving mobility, balance, physical activity, blood pressure (BP), body mass, and quality of life in postmenopausal women in Spain.

    METHODS: Fifty-two sedentary postmenopausal women (mean age 69.27 ± 3.85 y) were randomly assigned to receive either dance therapy (n = 27) or self-care treatment advice (n = 25). The intervention group participated in 2 months of dance therapy, three sessions weekly, based on Spanish folk dance (flamenco and sevillanas). The control group was provided a booklet containing physical activity recommendations. Mobility, balance, physical activity, BP, body mass, and quality of life were assessed at baseline and posttreatment in both groups. Statistical analysis was performed using a 2 × 2 analysis of variance (ANOVA).

    RESULTS: Women in the intervention group showed significant improvements in mobility and balance (timed up-and-go test [P = 0.022], cognitive timed up-and-go [P = 0.029], and one-leg stance test results [P = 0.001]), physical activity (total time index [P = 0.045], energy expenditure [P = 0.007], vigorous physical activity [P = 0.001], leisure activity [P = 0.001], moving [P < 0.001], and activity dimension summary [P = 0.001]), and fitness (overall fitness [P = 0.039], cardiorespiratory fitness [P < 0.001], speed-agility [P = 0.001], and flexibility [P = 0.007]) compared with those in the control group. No differences were observed in BP, body mass, or quality of life. CONCLUSIONS: Spanish dance therapy may be effective to improve mobility, balance, and levels of physical activity and fitness in sedentary postmenopausal women. Be well! JP

  17. JP Says:

    Updated 11/20/16:


    J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2016 Nov 11.

    The effects of a standardized belly dance program on perceived pain, disability, and function in women with chronic low back pain.

    BACKGROUND: An alternative approach to facilitate movement and control through the trunk and pelvis is belly dancing. Investigations of belly dancing mechanics indicate similar muscular activation patterns of those known to influence chronic low back pain (cLBP). However, no documented studies have examined its effectiveness as a treatment for cLBP.

    OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of a standardized belly dance program in women with cLBP.

    METHODS: A single subject design was used to evaluate weekly outcomes during a three-week baseline period, six-week belly dance program, and again at a two-month follow-up. Outcome measures for pain, disability, function, and fear-avoidance beliefs were utilized.

    RESULTS: Two subjects completed the program. No significant differences were noted during the baseline assessment period. At two months, subject one demonstrated change scores of -1.12, -1%, and 2.2 for pain, disability, and function respectively while subject two demonstrated change scores of 5.4, 5%, and 1.1 for pain, disability, and function, respectively. Subject one showed a clinically significant change score for both fear avoidance of work and physical activity, with score changes of 4 and 3.3, respectively.

    CONCLUSION: The results of this study suggest a standardized belly dance program may positively influence pain and function in women with cLBP.

    Be well!


  18. JP Says:

    Updated 01/29/17:


    J Aging Phys Act. 2017 Jan 17:1-30.

    Regular Latin Dancing and Health Education may Improve Cognition of Late Middle-Aged and Older Latinos.

    Disparities exist between Latinos and non-Latino whites in cognitive function. Dance is culturally appropriate and challenges individuals physically and cognitively, yet the impact of regular dancing on cognitive function in older Latinos has not been examined. A two-group pilot trial was employed among inactive, older Latinos. Participants (N = 57) participated in the BAILAMOS© dance program or a health education program. Cognitive test scores were converted to z-scores and measures of global cognition and specific domains (executive function, episodic memory, working memory) were derived. Results revealed a group x time interaction for episodic memory (p<0.05), such that the dance group showed greater improvement in episodic memory than the health education group. A main effect for time for global cognition (p<0.05) was also demonstrated, with participants in both groups improving. Structured Latin dance programs can positively influence episodic memory; and participation in structured programs may improve overall cognition among older Latinos.

    Be well!


  19. JP Says:

    Updated 02/12/17:


    J Nurs Res. 2017 Feb 9.

    Effects of an 8-Week Aerobic Dance Program on Health-Related Fitness in Patients With Schizophrenia.

    BACKGROUND: Both psychiatric symptoms and the side effects of medication significantly affect patients with schizophrenia. These effects frequently result in a sedentary lifestyle and weight gain, which increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.

    PURPOSE: This study developed an aerobic dance program for patients with schizophrenia and then evaluated the effect of this program on health-related fitness outcomes.

    METHODS: An experimental research design was used. Sixty patients with schizophrenia were recruited from a daycare ward and rehabilitation center at a psychiatric hospital in Taiwan. Paticipants were assigned randomly into an experimental group, which received the 8-week aerobic dance program intervention, and a control group, which received no intervention. All of the participants were assessed in terms of the outcome variables, which included bodyweight, body mass index, muscular endurance, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory endurance. These variables were measured before the intervention (pretest) as well as at 8 weeks (posttest) and 12 weeks (follow-up) after the intervention. This study used a generalized linear model with a generalized estimating equation method to account for the dependence of repeated measurements and to explore the effects of the intervention on health-related fitness outcomes.

    RESULTS: Twenty-six participants were in the experimental group, and 28 were in the control group. Significant between-group differences were observed at posttest and in the follow-up for all of the health-related fitness outcomes with the exception of muscular endurance.

    CONCLUSIONS/IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: This study suggests that an 8-week aerobic dance program may be an effective intervention in patients with schizophrenia in terms of improving bodyweight, body mass index, flexibility, and cardiorespiratory endurance for a period of at least 4 months. Furthermore, although muscular endurance was postively affected during the short-term period, the benefits did not extend into the follow-up examination. On the basis of these findings, aerobic dance is recommended as a nonpharmacological intervention for patients with schizophrenia who are in daycare or rehabilitation settings.

    Be well!


  20. JP Says:

    Updated 06/05/18:


    J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2018 Apr;22(2):460-466.

    Benefits of belly dance on quality of life, fatigue, and depressive symptoms in women with breast cancer – A pilot study of a non-randomised clinical trial.

    OBJECTIVE: To analyse the influence of belly dance on the quality of life, fatigue, and depressive symptoms in women with breast cancer.

    METHODS: Pilot study, with a design of non-randomised clinical trial study, analysing 19 women, with 8 allocated in the experimental group and 11 in the control group. The experimental group underwent 12 weeks of belly dance classes, with a frequency of twice a week and duration of 60 min for each lesson. Data collection was made through the use of questionnaires containing general information, quality of life (EORTC QLQ-BR23), fatigue (Piper Fatigue Scale) and depressive symptoms (BECK’s Depression Inventory) applied on baseline and after intervention.

    RESULTS: The experimental group presented significant improvements after the intervention, with an increase in scores of the functional scale (p = 0.002): body image (p = 0.037) and sexual function (p = 0.027); and a decrease in scores of the symptomatic scale (p = 0.001): systemic therapy side effects (p = 0.005) and arm symptoms (p = 0.001) of quality of life, as well the decrease of fatigue (p = 0.036) and depressive symptoms (p = 0.002). No significant differences were observed in clinical and demographic information at baseline between the experimental and control groups. Also, there was no significant difference on quality of life, fatigue, and depressive symptoms between the two groups.

    CONCLUSION: Belly dance can be a viable form of physical activity for women with breast cancer. It was associated with benefits for quality of life, fatigue, and depressive symptoms. Even though there were significant pre-post treatment differences, there was no significance difference between the experimental and control group; and therefore, treatment could have been due to natural history.

    Be well!


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