With hit shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars,” America is having a love affair with the act of shaking our groove thing. But dance is more than great entertainment or a social pastime. Whether high- or low-impact, in the form of ballroom, salsa, or hip-hop, dance is also good medicine.
Integrative medicine experts cite the following health benefits of dance:
- stimulates immunity
- tones the nervous system
- releases endorphins that decrease pain
- conditions the heart and respiratory system
- improves cholesterol and blood sugar levels
- amplifies oxygen flow throughout the body
- increases strength and endurance
- promotes a sense of wellbeing and euphoria
A research study in the October, 2009 edition of the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity revealed that regular dancing can improve balance, agility, flexibility, aerobic capacity, and lower-body muscle endurance. It also indicated that dancing may increase lower-body bone and muscle strength, as well as reduce the risk of falls. In addition, in the June 19, 2003 issue of New England Journal of Medicine, the Einstein Aging Study reported that dance not only has a profound impact on the body, but also on the mind — helping prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
“Some of the healthiest elderly people I encounter are those who dance regularly,” affirms integrative medicine specialist Andrew Weil, MD, author of Why Our Health Matters.
Gabrielle Roth, founder of the 5Rhythms freestyle dance method, even credits dance for saving her life from otherwise-fatal, stage-four lung cancer: In freestyle dance, she says, “we’re in the unknown and creating something.” Rather than learning routines and perfecting moves, she says, freestyle dancers practice deep inner listening and spontaneous movement. “As we move in freestyle, our entire being is engaged in this process,” she explains. “Today I’m sitting here cancer-free. I think a lot of the reason is that I was able to listen to my body as it said yes and no. It’s something we learn in freestyle dance…[The dance] was with me as I faced the exit sign and as I had to make life-and-death decisions.”
Those who are ill, elderly, or disabled may think they cannot dance. They can, doctors say, but those with limitations must be judicious about which dance methods they choose. A style like belly dancing, Weil notes, “can be less challenging on the joints.”
“As with any exercise, dance can be overdone,” cautions integrative medicine specialist Martin Rossman, MD, author of the forthcoming book, The Worry Solution.”You need to start slowly and work into increasing levels of exertion…High impact forms can be tough on the feet, knees, and back. Listen to your body, and do a bit less than you’d like, until you are in shape to do more.
“Consider any previous injuries or limitations in joints or muscles,” Rossman continues, “and make sure the dance you choose doesn’t put inordinate strain there. If you are limited by injury or illness like arthritis, talk to a physical therapist or dance therapist to help you design a program that will help you, not hurt you. Take it slow and listen to your body as you do new movements.”
Lastly, Rossman concludes, “have fun!”
Want to learn how to dance with your pain? Be sure to check out the Dancing with Pain store, for the “Breakfast Mix,” the first in our series of downloadable audio classes.