September is here! And sure enough, the chorus to “September,” the classic hit by Earth, Wind and Fire typically finds its way into my head (and now, probably yours too):
“Ba de ya — say do you remember
Ba de ya — dancing in September
Ba de ya — never was a cloudy day.”
Believe it or not, Earth, Wind and Fire may have been on to something more than just a catchy tune here. I recently came across an article from Harvard Medical School that discussed the positive effects dancing can have on the brain.
But that’s not all…Studies also show dancing has benefits for weight loss too. Let’s take a look at some of the research.
Dancing to a better brain
Back in 2003, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined 469 subjects 75 years of age or older. Researchers looked at the relationship between the risk of dementia and leisure activities. The study group participated in 11 types of physical activity including golf, swimming, tennis, dancing, and cycling.
Dancing was the only activity shown to lower risk of dementia — and by a whopping 76 percent! This was attributed to the fact that dancing involves a unique level of social interaction and mental effort, stimulating the brain in several areas.
Even more impressive are results from a study on dance and the brain’s cerebral white matter, conducted by Agnieszka Burzynska, a professor at Colorado State University. Cerebral white matter degeneration is one of the root causes of major age-related cognitive decline.
In the study, 174 adults between 60 – 79 years of age were divided into three groups that met three times a week for six months. The first group walked briskly for an hour each week. The second group participated in gentle stretching, balancing, and strength exercises. And the third group took one-hour dance lessons.
All groups saw an increase in cognitive performance, suggesting any activities involving moving and socializing have the ability to spark mental abilities in the aging brain. But at the end of the six months, the group who participated in the dance classes showed a significant increase in white matter on the brain’s fornix (a part of the brain involved in processing speed and memory).
Additional studies found that dance also helps to increase mood, raise levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin, reduce stress, develop new neural connections — particularly in regions of the brain used for decision-making, spatial/visual recognition, and long-term memory.
Dance and drop pounds
When it comes to weight loss and dancing, a study from the University of Brighton found that certain styles of dance like street, swing, or contemporary actually burned more calories (293) than running (264) or swimming (249) within a 30-minute timespan.
In a study from Loma Linda University, 60 female subjects between 25 – 65 years tested the effectiveness of weight loss and aerobic dance. After 10 days of one-hour aerobic dance exercise, the average weight loss was 2.6 pounds — and some participants lost almost 6 pounds
Dancing for just 20 minutes three times a week improved heart health more significantly than cardio workouts according to a study in Circulation: Heart Failure. It can even strengthen your skeletal structure, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.
So if the idea of joining a gym doesn’t appeal to you, don’t discount the benefits you can get from other forms of physical activity, like dancing. Like I always tell my patients, exercise doesn’t have to FEEL like exercise. It can be fun! Find something you like, and you’ll actually look forward to doing it.
For more exercise tips, health benefits, and ways to increase your longevity, check out chapter eight, titled “Fitness Prescription,” in The A-List Diet.
- I’m 65 years old and try my best to exercise about two to three times a week. As I grow older, I sometimes worry about overworking myself when I exercise. How can I prevent this?
- One key indicator is checking your heart rate. It will ensure you’re exerting enough energy to get the most out of your workout, without going overboard.
To find your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220.
So for instance, at age 65, the highest heart rate you should ever hit is 155 beats per minute. You generally want to keep your heart rate at 85 percent of your maximum (the “sweet spot” for weight loss), which would be at 132 beats per minute. This maximizes your body’s oxygen consumption and lowers your heart rate when you’re at rest, resulting in fat burn.
To check your heart rate while exercising follow these steps, outlined by the American Heart Association:
- Stop your work out momentarily.
- Take the pulse on the inside of your wrist (on the same side as your thumb)
- Use the tips of your first two fingers to press lightly over the blood vessels on your wrist.
- Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to find your beats per minute.
One more thing…
Whether it’s line-dance, ballroom, salsa, or even the hokey-pokey, dancing is one exercise you can do anywhere — whether you’re five or 85… there are really no rules.
And it’s one of the only workouts that connects your mind, body, and soul — a surefire recipe for a lifestyle change you can stick with. Not to mention, it works your muscles, bones, joints, and brain.
I recommend 15 to 20 minutes of aerobic activity each day… busting a move to three or four of your favorite songs a day has you covered!
So what are you waiting for? Turn on some Earth, Wind, and Fire (or whatever you please) and get on the floor for good health!
“Dancing and the Brain.” Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from: http://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/dancing-and-brain
“Weight Loss: Dance Can Burn Calories Better Than Running, Cycling Or Swimming, Says Study.” Headlines and Global News. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3371092/Desperate-lose-weight-DANCE-pounds-away-30-minute-classes-burn-calories-running-swimming.html
Reynolds, Gretchen. “Walk, Stretch or Dance? Dancing May Be Best for Brain.” (2017 March 29).The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/29/well/walk-stretch-or-dance-dancing-may-be-best-for-the-brain.html
Yeager, Selene. “Get into the Groove: The Benefits of Dance.” (2012 August 6). Women’s Health. Retrieved from: http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/dance-workout
“The Effect of an Aerobic Dance and Diet Program on Cardiovascular Fitness, Body Composition, and Weight Loss in Women.” (2008). The Journal of Applied Research. Retrieved from: http://www.jarcet.com/articles/Vol8Iss3/179-188_PetrofskyVol8No3_.pdf
“Target Heart Rates.” American Heart Association. Retrieved from: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/Target-Heart-Rates_UCM_434341_Article.jsp#.WbHTiLJ96Uk