The Health Benefits of Dance

Lake Oconee Dancing

Screen Shot 2015 05 23 at 7.41.16 PMDo you get the urge when you hear music with certain beats, to move? Dance?

Well, whether you tap your finger, sway, have two-left feet or are a Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Michael Jackson or Bruno Mars, rhythmic bodily movement is instinctive. And your personal expression through dance – along with being fun, comes with great health benefits.

Like any good, low-impact cardio workout, dancing can strengthen bones and muscles, stave off illnesses, improve cardiovascular health and increase stamina.

And too, when you turn your groove on (not just slow dancing), “busting your dance moves” gives you even “more” than traditional cardio.

Yes, dancing has a cardio edge with unique benefits that actually can’t be achieved by other low-impact exercises. Interestingly too, research shows, that people who use dance as a fitness workout, routinely workout longer. Health experts attribute it to the fact that people are inspired and don’t feel like it is a chore, or “dreaded” exercise – but instead find it fun and invigorating!!

Looking for a great way to stay active and gain great health benefits – saunter out…move to the music and dance!!

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About the Health Benefits of Dancing

Dance to the Music:

  • Heart healthy. Engaging in aerobic activity, whether we cha cha cha or hip-hop, is great for our heart–and the benefits continue even when the physical activity has stopped. This is because hearts are a muscle, and like all muscles, the more it is used, the stronger it becomes and the more efficiently it pumps blood. And dancing, conditions it. In fact, dancers have been found to have a lower resting heart rate compared to sedentary individuals. When your heart does not have to beat as often, it means that it does not have to work as hard.
  • Memory booster. Learning new skills, or in the case of dance, learning new steps, serves as a means to “foxtrot” our memory. Our brain is similar to a muscle, when we use it, it becomes stronger.

A study published in Frontier Aging Neuroscience, researchers enrolled adults aged 60 to 79 years of age into various physical activities such as walking, stretching, and dancing. While all activities had some benefit, dancing had the greatest impact of all.  Experts hypothesized that this is because dance combines cognitive, physical and social activity.

  • Calorie burner. What better way to burn calories than to move and groove to great sounds while you are doing it? The number of calories burned in an hour of dancing varies based on your body composition, type of dance and intensity. That being said, aerobic dancing workouts such as salsa, Zumba, hip-hop, Jazzercise, ballroom and swing have been shown to be effective ways to burn over 400 calories in an hour.
  • Break exercise monotony and fuel more workouts. Facts are, dancing has the well-deserved reputation of being fun and offering more variety in a way that a monotonous treadmill, elliptical or stationary bike workout generally does not.  As a result, it is one of the reasons people have been found to be inspired to engage in longer workout sessions – and over a greater period of time with aerobic dance workouts.
  • Stress reduction. A great quote by Vivian Greene tells the story: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain,” both literally and figuratively. And by dancing on, you can twirl, spin, step, and strut your way to reducing stress and ushering in calm.

Physical activity is a well-known antidote to many of our life’s stressors, mainly by boosting endorphins, our body’s “feel good” hormones that provides you with what some refer to as a “runner’s high.” 

Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise, like dancing, has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, while elevating and stabilizing mood, improving sleep, and self-esteem –all important in reducing stress. The findings highlighted, even five minutes of dancing can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

  • Increasing flexibility. Flexibility is needed to perform everyday activities with relative ease. For each of us, this is about things that can get harder the older you get, like getting out of bed, dressing, bending down to tie a shoe, walking up and down stairs, picking your child (or grandchild) up along with other daily tasks.  Dance enables you to move your body in ways that is both typical and untypical in your day-to-day life.  This allows you to build your range of motion and give your muscles a good stretch. In turn, it helps to support your daily actions and has been shown to prevent injuries, reduce back pain, and balance problems. Bottomline, research has shown that dancing is a great way to stay flexible.
  • Improves balance and spatial awareness. Many forms of dance are performed in an upright position and require substantial periods of unilateral stance and shifting of weight.  Dancing can improve balance, your ability to stabilize and control your body, as well as gain spatial awareness– being more aware of your body can make you more aware of your movement within a space and relationship to objects.  This is a very useful tool in reducing the risk of falling as you age (which could unfortunately result in broken bones, gashes, or even life-threatening head injuries).
  • Decreasing depression. Don’t worry, we do not need to be lifted in the air by our dance partner in order to have our spirits lifted. Dancing is not just a great form of physical activity but can also provide the opportunity to socialize. Both are great ways to decrease our risk for developing depression and can even become a part of a multi-modal approach to treating those diagnosed with it.

Plus again, busting a move triggers the release of your feel good hormones like serotonin and endorphin which interact with the receptors in your brain that help ward feelings of anxiety and depression.

  • Social Benefits and a Stronger Immune System.  And, because solo or partner dance is often in a group setting, there is the added benefit of socializing while getting fit.

Social engagement has been shown to build a stronger immune system, especially for older adults. This means that you are better able to fight off colds, the flu, and even some types of cancer. Interacting with others boosts feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression.

And mountains of research shows, as a result you will enjoy better mental and physical health. In one body of research findings, Psychologist Susan Pinker explains it as, “Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.”

  • Improved Memory. Dancers get a good mental workout.  Practicing dance steps and patterns gives your memory a boost.  Focusing on different parts of the body simultaneously also gives you a great mental challenge, helping your mind to stay sharp.

What is the Right style for you?

There are many options when it comes to dancing workouts. Here are some things to consider. Do you want to dance:

  • on your own, with a partner or large group?
  • in a class, dance school, social club, fitness center, community hall, or in your own home?
  • with fast or slow movements, or a combination?
  • with private or group lessons, or self-learn with instructional videos? 
  • for fun, or “go-for-it” in competitions?

And not to worry! If you realize that the Texas Two-Step is not quite your groove, there are many other forms that may suit your needs.


If you have a medical condition, are overweight, over 40 years of age, or inactive, consult with your doctor before starting a dance or other fitness program. Additionally, make sure to:

  • Perform warm-up activities
  • Know your limits, especially for beginners to avoid injury
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after
  • Avoid pushing yourself too far or too fast
  • Wear professionally fitted shoes and clothing appropriate to your style of dance
  • Check with your dance workout instructor to ensure you are maintaining good form

And too, music has also been found to lower blood pressure as well as changes in the “autonomic” nervous system, such as breathing and heart rate — which also supports better health.

Taking all of this into account, remember, “getting your grove on” is not only healthy – but it is F-U-N! Turn the music up – let’s dance!!

Author Profile
Dr. Nina Radcliff

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.