7 Surprising Health Benefits of Dance

With the Season 12 finale of So You Think You Can Dance upon us, we have an important message for you: You shouldn't be sitting on your couch watching the show, you should be dancing along!

Whether you tap like Gaby or hip-hop like Jaja—or even if you dance like you've got two left feet—the aerobic power of dance can help prevent disease and even load your brain with feel-good chemicals. 

Here are 7 ways that dance helps get your mind and body in tip-top shape:

#1. Cancer Prevention
A 2005 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention cites dance's total-body movement as an important way to target the circulatory, respiratory, skeletal, and muscular systems all at once. (And, might we add, without the bore of running on a treadmill!).

About a third of the 500,000 annual cancer-related deaths in the U.S. could be mitigated with more movement and better lifestyle choices. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 5 days a week, with aerobic dance making the organization's list of suggested vigorous activities. 

#2. Stress Relief
Tango music alone is enough to put you in a better mood, but Australian researchers found that tango dancing also serves as a potent, scientifically proven form of stress relief. A 2014 study published in journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that this form of dancing lowers levels of stress and anxiety even better than meditation.

#3. Protection Against Dementia
A 21-year study investigating different activities and their potential impacts on dementia found that frequent dancing was the only physical activity studied that showed protective effects against cognitive losses. Social dancing beat out walking, biking, swimming, reading, performing housework, doing crossword puzzles, and golfing in terms of keeping the mind sharp. According to The Alzheimer's Project, dancing simultaneously involves kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional responses. 

#4. More Mobility in Parkinson's
A 2011 study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that when people living with Parkinson's disease participated in a weekly dance class for eight months, they were less rigid and better able to move their hands and facial muscles. The dancers also reported improvements in their social lives, health, and mobility. Interestingly, the benefits caused a spillover effect, with those caring for the dancers reporting better quality of life, too. 

#5. Healing Heart Failure
Heart failure sounds scary—and it is a serious condition—but the last thing living with a stable, chronic form of the disease calls for is hanging up your dancing shoes. People living with heart failure should look to the dance floor to safely improve their heart function and quality of life. 

Italian researchers proved that waltzing is just as good—or better—than walking when it comes to the best exercises for heart failure patients. The 2008 study, published in Circulation: Heart Failure, found that waltzing was on par with interval training for positive effects, but the benefits occurred with just 21 minutes of dance. 

#6. Easing PTSD
Dance movement is a unique way to tap into the mind, body, and social aspects of recovering from things like torture and abuse. For this reason, therapists helping war veterans and victims of sexual abuse are turning to dance to heal the mind and body.

According to the American Dance Therapy Association, dance is a way to express difficult feelings without using words. "Survivors can eventually regain a sense of control over confusing thoughts and feelings as they navigate their own bodily felt experience," the organization notes. 

#7. Reversing Depression
Dancing—particularly salsa dancing—is an effective way to change brain chemistry in a depression-fighting way. Researchers at England's University of Derby found that people taking salsa dance lessons (and benefiting from the ensuing endorphin boosts) experienced drastic mood improvement after nine weeks of classes. The dancing also increased their confidence levels. The combination of concentration on dance moves and the feel-good change in brain chemistry helps ease symptoms of depression.

From Rodale Wellness
Photo By Thinkstock

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