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Dance Your Way to Better Health
By Karen Asp
When it comes to getting your groove on, you may consider yourself among the rhythm-challenged, with two left feet and a repertoire confined to wedding-induced displays of the funky chicken. The words fun and dance have never gone together in your mind. But lock the door, close the blinds, and give it a try with no one else around because dancing truly is an easy way to get into shape. You may even discover that it makes you smile—or in some cases, laugh out loud.
In recent years, dancing has stepped up—and out—to health clubs, rec centers, and dance studios, as the newest get-fit craze, thanks in part to the hit TV show “Dancing With the Stars.” This jazzy alternative to the more traditional aerobic activities like walking, running, and cycling, “offers many wonderful physical, mental, and social benefits,” says Polly de Mille, RN, exercise physiologist with the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, making it an appealing choice, “especially when compared to gym workouts.”
Let’s get physical
Whether you indulge in belly dancing, hip hop, jazz, or the funky chicken, you reap as many cardiovascular rewards as you would by taking a brisk walk or a long bike ride and burn at least as many calories. And, while you’re busy dancing off those pounds, your skeletal system gets weight-bearing benefits: all that foot-stomping activity builds muscular strength and bone density throughout your entire body.
Feeling a little stiff in the joints? Then start dancing. Because you move in multiple directions—side-to-side, forward-and-back, in circles, and even in squares—you increase mobility in your joints. “Having good range of motion through the joints will help you function better day-to-day, whether you are picking objects up off the floor or lifting something overhead,” de Mille says. One study found that young adults who followed a three-month dance-training program increased range of motion in their hips and flexibility in their spine.
With those multidirectional patterns come improved balance and agility, too, something gym workouts typically don’t focus on. Balance decreases as you age (one reason older adults are at such risk for falls), but don’t wait till you’re too old to rock out: By working it now, you can stave off all sorts of age-related declines, de Mille says.
Although you won’t experience a hard-core aerobic workout doing ballet, you will improve your posture. “Ballet teaches you to lift up and out of your center and encourages you to lengthen,” says Caron Bosler, a Pilates trainer in London and author of 15 Minute Dance Workout (DK, 2008). “It’s impossible to stand beautifully in ballet and then slouch through your everyday life.”
Beyond the physical, shimmying, twirling, and twisting bestow more subtle benefits. Numerous studies cite its mental stimulation and mind-body connection as possible protectors against dementia, depression, and st...
Author: Karen Asp
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