Dan Craig, Senior Physiologist at AXA Health

The health benefits of dancing

That kitchen disco is more beneficial than you may think!

19 January 2021

Mother and daughters dancing at home

Find your Feelgood Health

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Find your feelgood health

A key part in keeping ourselves healthy and feeling good is staying active, but studies show that we’re so much more likely to stick to a form of exercise if we actually enjoy doing it [1]. Finding the way you like to keep active the most may involve a bit of trial and error, but once you’ve got it, you’re likely to keep doing it.

From shimmying round the kitchen while cooking up a meal, to getting the whole family up off the sofa to have a dance in front of the TV, dancing is one of those things that makes us feel good – and it’s not confined to the dance studio! We know that exercise has a whole host of benefits for our physical and mental health, but seeing as we mostly dance to music, this form of exercise comes with a number of other benefits too, which we’ll come on to later.

Dan Craig, Senior Physiologist at AXA Health, describes some of the key benefits we can get from dancing, whether that be just round the house or in a more structured setting, such as going to dance classes or following an online class at home.

Why is dancing good for us?

1. It supports our physical health.

“Dancing is one of those incredible exercises that hits several different body systems at once. It gets our heart rates going, and works our cardiorespiratory system (heart and lungs, together). It helps to keep our muscles active, which not only maintains a good level of strength and endurance now but prevents us losing these as we get older. It’s also a great activity to choose if you aren’t very fit to start with or have limited mobility. It’s gentle on our joints, great for flexibility, and it’s easy to adapt to our own capability.”

Due to its increase in certain brain activity, dance can also help to improve memory, the ability we have to multitask and can help older people’s brains form new interconnections and work more quickly [2]. Not only that, but because we have to learn new steps and techniques and possibly work with a partner or group, dance presents challenges to the brain that help keep it healthy [3]

2. Mental wellbeing

“The ‘therapeutic-ness’ of exercise is often forgotten. Beyond the many benefits to our physical health, it can also be fantastic for our overall mental health. We all have a pea-sized gland inside our brains (called our pituitary gland), which releases endorphins when we exercise. These go all around your body to help you feel happier and more content, but also less stressed and less susceptible to feelings of physical discomfort or pain. By doing some exercise that we enjoy, we get a mood-enhancing boost afterwards! Dancing helps us to achieve all these great benefits. It helps us to feel happier in the moment, more optimistic and less stressed. Even if it’s just a jig to some music in the kitchen when nobody is looking!”

In fact, dance is a powerful form of therapy, but it wasn’t until the 21st century that creative art therapies such as dance evolved as a form of complementary medicine for both psychological and physical illnesses [4]. One study on a group of non-professional dancers found that self-esteem and coping strategies were a key benefit, along with overall wellbeing being positively impacted through taking part in dance [5].

3. Benefits of the music

While dance brings us so many benefits that are typical with exercising in general, the fact that we dance to music means it comes with even more benefits. Music has a positive impact on the brain and its function, but it also has an effect on our bodies as we react to the beat of the music [6]. Discover more in our article on the benefits of music.

“Everyone loves listening to some music, periodically or avidly. However, music may well have some amazing benefits to our health; our mental and cognitive health, especially. Some studies suggest that music could help us to learn more effectively, memorise and process simple tasks better, reduce the impact of anxiety and possibly even symptoms of depression. Music often drives us to move more! And when we do, we begin to get all the great benefits listed above.”

4. Dancing is sociable

If you decide to go to a class rather than dancing at home, it can be a great way to meet new people and is also a great activity to do with loved ones and friends. “Human beings are softies at heart, really! On some level, everyone enjoys social interactions. Dancing provides a great opportunity to be social at the same time. But beyond this, it helps us to feel good. And when we feel good about something or have a sense of achievement as a result – we want to share it. Like a child who’s worked out the big jump into the swimming pool and wants to show off to their parents, we all have an innate desire to share things we feel good about with others. So, when we feel good about exercising, we may often feel more social because of that desire to share it with others.”

5. It’s fun!

Getting moving is all about finding what you enjoy and what feels good. Dance is a great way to switch off from the busyness of our daily lives and concentrate on the moves, the music and just having a good time. “Find some time to be active, do a dance in the house – even if it’s just by yourself! It’s a great thing to simply allow yourself to feel happy in the moment, connected and creative. It’s what life is all about!"

Inspired to get dancing? Have a look online for any classes you can do from home and if you think heading out to a class is for you, the NHS page on dance has a list of where to look for dance classes in your local area. But don’t forget to check what equipment you may need. 

One of the Feelgood Health journeys we’ve followed is with professional dancer, Alex. Dan spoke to Alex to find out more about what dance means to him, how it has helped him to find his feelgood and also how moving can be such a powerful thing. Alex describes dance as being “more than just about the movement and the activity for me, it’s actually become my personal bible for navigating and understanding who I really am as a person,” showing that how and why we get moving are so important for our mental and physical health and can have such positive impacts on how we feel. 

Dan highlights that “one of the best things that we can do to feel better, to feel good about our health, is actually to do a little bit of exercise,” so why not join us in the journey to discover your feelgood? Put some music on, have a dance around the house or follow a tutorial and see how you feel afterwards. It might just be the exercise you’ve been looking for!

Discover more ways to boost you mental and physical health in a way that works for you in our Feelgood Health hub, or why not check out our Feelgood mindsets. We’ve five profiles that describe different people’s approach to their health and wellbeing, with tailored suggestions of content for each. Which one are you? www.axahealth.co.uk/feelgoodhealth 

Further Reading

Benefits & tips for exercising outdoors - AXA Health

Nature and mental health benefits - AXA Health

Health benefits of swimming - AXA Health

Benefits of hiking - AXA Health

Benefits of standup paddleboarding - AXA Health

The health benefits of music - AXA Health

References

1. Baldwin DR, Datta S, Bassett DR, et al (2016). Acta Psychopathol. Feel Better But Exercise Less: An Examination of Exercise Enjoyment, Personality and Physical Activity in Young Adults.

2, 3, 4, 6. Alpert, P (2011). Home Health Care Management & Practice. The Health Benefits of Dance.

5. Murcia, C, et al (2010). Arts & Health. Shall we dance? An exploration of the perceived benefits of dancing on well-being

Dance for fitness - NHS

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