“Just how many calories can I burn when dancing?” said Juancho S.P., 65 – rhetorically, actually, since he was told to pick up “an activity, any activity that may not be as strenuous but will still keep him fit” by his doctor, who was quickly scoffed at. “If it isn’t THAT strenuous, it’s not really an exercise.”
Juancho S.P. had been seeing his doctor more frequently the last few months – no thanks to “this recurring pain at my chest – if you ask me, it’s nothing, really, just the stress from everything I need to have finished before my retirement,” he says, though “getting checked seemed like a logical idea.”
Then, he adds: “Especially if your wife bugs you day and night about it. Making you eat only this and that. Making sure, as she says it, ‘You’d be around for long still.”
It was during these check-ups that he was told to exercise – “As if my daily responsibilities aren’t enough,” he said – to stay fit. “Lower your risks of coronary heart disease – which the doctor said I could end up having – by decreasing my blood pressure,” Juancho S.P. said.
Like many, though, dancing never struck Juancho S.P. as a healthy activity. “Yeah, right. I didn’t lose weight playing basketball in college some 50 years ago – and he thinks I can lose weight, be fit by dancing?” he said.
This, unfortunately, is a notion shared by many.
According to The Health Benefits of Dancing (SixWise.com), what not many people know is that “if you secretly sashay across your living room when you’re home alone or long to cha-cha with your significant other, you’re in luck. Not only is dancing an exceptional way to let loose and have fun, but it also provides some terrific benefits for your health.”
A 21-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in fact, found that dancing can even reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in the elderly – with participants over the age of 75 who engaged in reading, dancing and playing musical instruments, and board games once a week had a 7% lower risk of dementia compared to those who did not. Those who engaged in these activities at least 11 days a month had a 63% lower risk. Interestingly, dancing was the only physical activity out of 11 in the study that was associated with a lower risk of dementia.
“This is perhaps because dance music engages the dancer’s mind,” says Joe Verghese, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a lead researcher of the study, adding that “dancing may be a triple benefit for the brain. Not only does the physical aspect of dancing increase blood flow to the brain, but also the social aspect of the activity leads to less stress, depression, and loneliness. Further, dancing requires memorizing steps and working with a partner, both of which provide mental challenges that are crucial for brain health.”
Among others, Mayo Clinic researchers reported that social dancing helps reduce stress, increase energy, improve strength, increase muscle tone and coordination – benefits that, adds the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) are further boost by dancing’s benefits of lowering risk of coronary heart disease, decreasing blood pressure, helping manage weight, and strengthening the bones of legs and hips.
Obviously, stresses exercise physiologist Catherine Cram, MS, of Comprehensive Fitness Consulting in Middleton, Wisconsin in the US, as quoted by SixWise.com, “the amount of benefit you get from dancing depends on, like most exercises, the type of dancing you’re doing, how strenuous it is, the duration, and your skill level.”
There are, in fact, specific benefits to be derived from specific dances. Ballroom dancing is said to condition the body by building and increasing stamina, helping keep the heart in shape, developing the circulatory system, strengthening and tones legs and body, and increasing flexibility and balance. Belly dancing helps improve posture and muscle toning, maintains flexibility, tones and firms arms and shoulders, and helps prepare women for childbirth. As for salsa dancing, it helps build endurance and stamina (therefore weight loss), relieves stress, and can lead to a reduced heart rate over time.
Months after he was advised to start dancing, Juancho S.P. has yet to fully appreciate the value of dancing – “I don’t notice much difference,” he now says, even if admitting “I have been losing a lot of weight – and not feel any weaker or anything for being so, since I’ve been dancing with my wife for hours way after my usual work hours for weeks now,” he adds, smiling.
But acknowledgment, in this case, seems unnecessary, for as long as the benefits of dancing is noted, even if indirectly. Because then, dancing would have served its purpose.