It was recently reported that more than fourteen million viewers tuned in to episodes of the television show, Dancing With The Stars. That’s not surprising. Whether it’s the costumes, couples, or competition, there is something about watching the sheer spectacle, artistry, and movement that just makes us feel good! No question, just observing those amateurs and professionals foxtrot and quickstep lifts one’s spirits, but there is recent, compelling evidence that suggests everyone should do a little less watching, and a lot more dancing.
The notion that dance make us feel better is not a revelation. Dance has played an important role in fostering physical and mental health since time began. Ancient armies used dance steps to mentally prepare troops for battle. Medicine men have been dancing as part of healing rituals for centuries. Dance has been used to ward off evil spirits and heal a host of maladies. The news, however, is just how effective and therapeutic dance can be.
Dance movements generate the kind of physical activity recognized by the American Council on Exercise as aerobic activity, which has been shown to improve overall functioning of the cardiovascular, muscular skeletal, pulmonary, and circulatory systems. Studies show that dancing has been effective in lowering blood pressure, regulating blood sugar levels, boosting bone density, improving balance, flexibility, and coordination, and reducing the effects of aging.
Born to Dance
There is something innate that causes humans to respond to music and sounds with movement. From the womb, tots will move their bodies and flail their hands and arms whenever music plays. Uninhibited and uncensored, children love to twist and shake, twirl and spin. It comes naturally, and happily. Children dance because it feels good, and there is plenty of scientific support for those inclinations.
Research shows dancing improves mental health, as well. Moving to music apparently unlocks a whole treasure trove of natural mood elevators, whether you can find your rhythm or not. Also, dancing serves to jumpstart the brain’s pleasure centers into releasing feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. The endorphins the brain releases have been proven to combat depression, reduce stress, control pain, and boost mood. Numerous research studies have also found that dancing results in a heightened sense of well-being, and have been found it to be more effective in reducing anxiety than other forms of exercise, like walking on a treadmill or bicycle riding.
In addition, the foundational movements of dance incorporate the types of body movement that studies have shown promote happiness. Specifically, jumping, skipping, and raising arms up in the air create a sense of joy. Research has also linked dance with improved mental agility, increased memory, and dancers were shown to have a reduced incidence of dementia.
Dance today plays a therapeutic role in healing and recovery, proving beneficial in treating cancer patients and survivors of traumatic events. While research in the area of dance and health is on-going, this much is certain: dancing not only feels good, it is very good for you. Now it’s time to set the remote down for just a moment and Cha-Cha-Cha.