Cutting a Rug: The Benefits of Dance

By Leslie LaPlace, GHA Fitness Manager

Let’s Dance… for Health’s Sake

The next time someone approaches you and asks “May I have this dance?” you might want to take them up on it. Dancing might not be the first form of exercise that comes to mind, but more and more health experts are encouraging dance as a way to contribute to your mental and physical health. It turns out, there are many health benefits for those willing to give it a shot and put their best foot forward. 

Dance: It Does a Body Good

The idea of dance as exercise has been around for a long time. Richard Simmons led the “Sweating to the Oldies” craze in the 1980s. Today, gyms offer Latin-inspired Zumba and ballet-inspired Barre classes. Whether your groove is ballroom, hip-hop or salsa, there is a class for you. While their beats are different, they all have one thing in common—they get your body moving!  And when your body is moving, so is your heart, creating a great cardio workout.

Fred Astaire Dance Studios boast that in just 30 minutes of their ballroom dance class, you can burn between 200 and 400 calories. In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, which include strengthening your heart and lungs, this type of exercise can help with weight loss as well. A study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that dance as exercise is just as effective for weight loss as cycling and jogging.

According to the American Council on Exercise, dancing is a weight-bearing activity, which can improve bone density (and thereby reduce the risk of osteoporosis), as well as improve muscle strength, coordination and balance. And this simple list of five benefits appeared on earlier this year:

  1. Minimizes Symptoms of Depression
  2. Improves Strength and Balance
  3. Reduces Joint Pain and Stiffness
  4. Protects Your Heart
  5. Defends Against Dementia

A Mental Mambo – The Happiness Benefit

Have you ever tried to do the hokey pokey without smiling? Bet you can’t do it! Why? Because music and dancing simply make you happy; and there are real studies behind the happiness hype.

One study in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that dance movement therapy not only improves depression, it also reduces stress psychology by regulating serotonin and dopamine levels in the body.

But dance doesn’t just make your mood better, it makes your mind better too, as noted in a 21-year study conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Study participants over the age of 75 who regularly participated in either dance, board games or playing a musical instrument once a week reduced their risk of dementia by 7%. Those who engaged in these activities at least 11 days a month had a 63% lower risk.

Surprisingly, other physical activities such as golf, bicycling, or swimming offered no protection against dementia. Dance was the only activity that lower the risk of dementia by a whopping 76%. They explained this extraordinary finding by saying that dance was the only activity that truly engaged mental effort. Dance demands testing your memory with steps (especially line dancing!) and challenges your motors skills.

So don’t wait until that next wedding, bar mitzvah or gala to hit the dance floor. Seek out opportunities in your area to dance regularly. Or slide the coffee table over, turn on your favorite tunes and have a dance party in the comfort of your own home. Dance is great for all ages, it’s an awesome workout for your head and heart and most of all, it’s FUN!

As Emily Sandow, supervisor of dance physical therapy at New York University (NYU) Langone’s Harkness Center for Dance Injuries, phrases it, “the integration of the body and the soul is key to any healthy lifestyle and at the center of dance. All you need is yourself.”


Leslie LaPlace is self-described recovering Software Development Project Manager. Leslie parlayed a lifelong love of and belief in the restorative power of exercise into a satisfying career working with adults ages 55 and older. She believes that staying active can help reduce aches and pains. It’s also a great anti-aging remedy. She has more than six years’ experience working in Arlington County, The Jefferson, Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads and Goodwin House Alexandria. Leslie is a certified personal trainer and aquatic instructor who loves creating a positive and fun training experience. She believes that it’s never too late to improve your strength and balance!