Dance Fitness 101
Joe Fleming provides an overview of an exercise program that not only benefits weight management and health goals but complements a comprehensive cross-training program.
What is Dance Fitness?
Dance fitness marries the aerobic power of a moderate to high-intensity workout with the fun and spirited moves of many different styles of dance including Latin dancing, hip hop, jazz, and even Arabic dancing (belly dancing) and Bollywood dancing. Conducted in a group-style setting, dance fitness is typically led as a class in a gym or studio.
You have likely heard of the widely popular Zumba that reportedly over 15 million people participate in around the world in over 180 countries. Other common dance fitness programs include Jazzercise, barre, pole dancing, Hip Hop Abs, Turbo Jam, Buti Yoga, Bokwa, Broadway Bodies, and ballroom dancing.
Health Benefits of Dance Fitness
Depending on the type and intensity of dance fitness you try, health benefits may include:
Improved heart health - dance fitness classes typically last around an hour and for the most part are non-stop. While the activity intensity swings between low and high, the movement is constant, which means the heart is beating harder and harder as a class goes on. This exercise of the heart muscle helps to protect the entire cardiovascular system and guard against lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.
Weight management - one study found that participating in a single Zumba fitness class helped participants burn over 350 calories. However, other reports show numbers as high as 599 calories in one hour (for a 150-pound woman). Researchers who analyzed the heart rate monitors study participants wore found that the Zumba class mimicked more of an interval training program and induced maximum heart rate and VO2max responses that could help improve cardio endurance.
The transition between low and high-intensity movement in interval workouts has been shown to help people burn more calories than an activity like jogging which can contribute to healthy weight management.
Stress relief - both social interaction as well as listening to music have both been shown to provide stress relief, and dance fitness delivers a whopping dose of both. Combined with the natural stimulation of feel-good endorphins that routine exercise can induce, dance fitness may be considered an alternative tool for relieving stress and guarding against symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The fun factor - a 2015 survey of over 400 dance fitness attendees found that while participants started attending dance fitness classes because they were looking to improve their health, manage their weight, and build strength and endurance, they kept up with them because of the enjoyment, revitalization, and stress relief they offered. It turns out the group setting combined with the lively atmosphere helps foster a sense of community that attracts participants back to dance fitness more than just the fitness aspect of it.
Stronger balance and coordination - particularly important for older adults who are at high risk of experiencing a fall, dance fitness facilitates a coordinated workout that can strengthen balance, flexibility, and agility skills. Over time, dance fitness participants tone critical leg, arm, and core muscles that promote better postural stability and physical reaction time too. One unexpected effect of this? Greater confidence! Whether it is feeling better in your body or experiencing greater strength and coordination, dance fitness can be a key to boosting self-esteem too!
Brain health - on top of the physical activity it requires, dance fitness also engages the brain in learning, memorizing, and problem-solving. Most dance fitness classes combine choreographed steps with intermittent periods of improvisation. The "dance learning" involved stimulates both the motor and somatosensory regions of the brain as well as the cerebellum and basal ganglia. A New England Journal of Medicine study specifically found that as a leisure activity among older adults, dancing was associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
As a weight-bearing activity that involves low-impact multi-directional movement too, dance fitness may also serve as a way to combat age-related bone loss and keep joints mobilized.
What Do You Need for a Dance Fitness Class?
It would be best if you rarely had more than the right attitude, appropriate clothing, and proper shoes to participate in a dance fitness class. Dance fitness doesn't require specialty outfits or the like; instead, you want to wear flexible, lightweight clothing that will allow you a wide range of movements and help you stay cool as your body temperature warms up.
As for shoes, because of the multi-directional nature of dance fitness (i.e. moving forward, backward, and side-to-side) as well as the pivoting and turning that occurs, you will want to find trainers that can adapt and support your feet and legs. Unlike running shoes, dance fitness trainers don't feature a ton of padding and support like you might find with running shoes. They are more lightweight, feature smoother bottoms that don't grip a studio or gym floor too much, and sometimes even have pivot points on the soles.
If you have experienced a lower leg injury before, like a sprained ankle, you may want to reinforce your joint with an orthopaedic brace or wrap to help prevent re-injury. Low-impact physical activity like that which you experience in dance fitness can itself be a method of injury prevention too.
Who Should Try Dance Fitness?
Unlike other fitness modalities like endurance running or playing sports, dance fitness is uniquely accessible to almost any group of people. Because the focus isn't on perfecting steps or choreography but instead getting a workout and having fun, people of all fitness levels can find it easy to modify movements while they participate.
For example, if you desire less body engagement because of your age or an injury, you can take smaller steps and bob along to the music in a way that keeps you engaged but more comfortable. Suppose you desire a higher-intensity workout, on the other hand. In that case, you can exaggerate your movements with faster, deeper, and broader motions that go along with the steps and truly challenge you.
Some specialty dance fitness classes, like the ballet-based barre program, do offer classes based on varying skill levels, however. Hence, it's essential to shop around and ask the instructor what you can expect. For athletes like swimmers, runners, and football players, dance fitness could play a vital role in your cross-training regimen.
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About the Author
Joe Fleming is the President of ViveHealth.com. Passionate about healthy lifestyles and living a full life, he enjoys sharing and expressing these interests through his writing. To inspire others and fight ageism, Joe writes to help people of all backgrounds and ages overcome life's challenges. His work ranges from articles on wellness, holistic health, and ageing to social narratives, motivational pieces, and news stories. For Joe, helping others is vital.