Don't resist the urge to shake your booty: Dancing has some serious perks for your physical, mental and emotional health.
If you've been dabbling with the idea of dance, here are eight reasons you should finally add a little rhythm to your fitness routine.
Having a stressful day? Fitting in a dance class may be the last thing on your to-do list, but a little boogie session can be just the stress-reliever your mind and body need. When you dance, you're not focusing on the stress in your personal life, says New York-based dance fitness instructor Delia Marmol, who adds that all your day-to-day worries practically disappear instantaneously. "Halfway through the warmup, people are already more relaxed and ready to let loose."
There's a scientific reason for this chilled-out effect. During exercise, the brain releases endorphins — your body's natural painkillers — which can help alleviate anxiety and stress, says Selina Shah, dancer and sports medicine physician for the Diablo Ballet Dance Company and Axis Dance Company. That's why you feel so calm and satisfied after a good workout.
There's just something about grooving to the radio that makes you feel carefree. In part, it's the rush of feel-good endorphins that flood your system when you bounce to a beat. Plus, listening to music also triggers the release of the "happy chemical" dopamine in the brain, according to a January 2011 study published in Nature Neuroscience. That's why hearing your favorite song puts you on cloud nine.
But there's even more to celebrate about dance: It can also make you feel better about yourself. One August 2010 study in Arts & Health found that cutting a rug could boost your self-esteem. Especially if you're a little shy, dancing can help you come out of your shell.
A little dance can go a long way to lift your spirits, too. A September 2011 study published in Collegium Antropologicum found that dance training reduced depression among university students.
Turns out, dancing's not just food for your soul, it's also great for your heart. In fact, dance can cut your risk of dying from heart disease, according to a June 2016 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. What's more, the same study found that moderate-intensity dancing had an even greater benefit than walking when it comes to cardiovascular health.
Plus, like any other heart-pumping cardio workout, dance burns a ton of calories. A 155-pound person burns approximately 223 calories for every 30 minutes of fast-paced dance, according to Harvard Health Publishing. In comparison, walking at 3.5 mph only burns 149 calories for the same amount of time.
Ever wonder why dancers have rock-hard bodies? It's because "dance engages muscles in ways far different than traditional exercise," says Brian Dawson, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in dance medicine. Unlike activities such as running and weightlifting, dancing uses less repetitive movements, so it keeps your body guessing. Not only does dance fire up your muscles in new ways, it involves all planes of motion. That's why it's great for conditioning, strengthening and toning.
This type of varied movement not only boosts strength but also improves balance. "You need to have good balance to manage all the shifting of positions and changing of directions that are required of dance," says Shah.
Good balance is particularly important as you age since it can help reduce your risk of injury. Alarmingly, one in four adults over the age of 65 will fall each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Luckily, dancing can help you stay steady on your feet as you approach your golden years. An August 2016 study of elderly women published in the Journal of Women & Aging found that dance therapy improved balance and stability, thus ultimately reducing the risk of dangerous falls.
If you've ever taken a dance class, you've probably noticed it involves flexing your mental muscles, too. Learning choreography is great exercise for your brain, says Marmol. That's because it takes a lot of brain power to remember sequences of steps and master complicated moves.
Hitting the dance floor may even help reduce cognitive decline as you get older. A March 2017 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that dance increased the amount of white matter in the brains of aging adults. As you age, your white matter breaks down, leading to problems with your brain's processing speed and memory — but the more white matter you have, the better.
A December 2018 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that dancing could improve cognitive flexibility, i.e., the brain's ability to adjust to new, unexpected situations. Translation: Dancing not only keeps your limbs limber but your mind too.
Not a fan of exercise? If you dread working out, dance is a great way to sneak in physical fitness without realizing it. "For many people, dancing is less of a 'chore' than going to the gym," says Dawson. That's because it's so much fun. Time flies when you're busy grooving, says Marmol, who explains that a group dance class often feels more like a party than a workout.
The music has a lot to do with that festive vibe. In fact, fast tempo tunes get you pumped and make you push harder during a sweat session, according to an August 2010 study of cyclists published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. And since dancing never feels like work, you'll want to keep doing it.
Hands down, dancing is one of the most accessible forms of exercise. All you need is your body — some types of dance don't even require shoes — and some music.
Plus, you can dance whenever inspiration strikes, fitting in a quick shimmy while you get ready for work or when you cook dinner — no need to drive all the way to the gym.
And, whether you're 90 or 19, anyone can groove to a beat. Dance can be modified to suit all ages, says Marmol. So, start now, and shake your way into your later years.
Joining a dance class can boost your social life, too. If you attend regularly, you're bound to make buddies with your fellow dancers, says Shah. "Many friendships start in a dance class," says Marmol, adding that the environment fosters a strong sense of community.
Part of this friendly atmosphere relates to the music. Moving in sync to the same rhythm facilitates social bonds, according to a September 2014 paper published in the Frontiers of Psychology. Essentially, synchronized movements light up neural pathways in your brain that encourage the process of connecting with another, leading to feelings of increased closeness.
If you're nervous about dancing in front of people, start at home. Let loose like no one's watching. But, ultimately, don't let your fear of two left feet keep you from joining the party.