While some hard-core athletes may question the classification of dance as sport, the superb muscle tone and tremendous fitness of dancers prove otherwise. In fact, dance might just be the ideal exercise. In addition to a total body workout, dancing provides both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, not to mention the mood boost provided by music. 

Anti-aging benefits

Now, research shows that dance may also be an ideal activity for the elderly. While all physical exercise has an anti-aging effect on the hippocampus region of the brain, a study appearing in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience compared dancing and endurance training and found that dancing had the more profound effect.

The study examined exercise in elderly volunteers, averaging 68 years old, over the course of eighteen months. Subjects were assigned to either a dance course, where they learned and performed new dance routines each week, or a traditional endurance and flexibility training program involving repetitive exercises. Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain, the area that is tied to cognitive functions and can be prone to age-related decline. However, while both dance and endurance training had an anti-aging effect on the brain, only dancing corresponded to a noticeable difference in behavior, specifically improved balance. The authors attributed the difference to the extra cognitive challenge of learning dance routines.

Dance for all ages

Young people and middle-aged adults can also benefit from the total body workout of dance and experience its cognitive advantages. Dancing combines aerobic and weight-bearing exercise, along with social, memory, and mental health benefits, including:

  • Better heart health
  • Stronger muscles
  • Better balance and coordination
  • Stronger bones
  • Lower risk of dementia
  • Improved memory
  • Reduced stress
  • More energy
  • Improved mood

From traditional ballroom or ballet to Jazzercize, Zumba, or even dance video games, there’s a wide variety of options and styles to choose from. Of course, the workout you get depends on the type of dancing you do and how long you do it. Most types of ballroom dancing burn about 260 calories in an hour, while more intense dance, like salsa or aerobics, allow you to burn up to 500 calories an hour. However, in addition to the calorie burn, dancing offers a total body workout while providing cognitive benefits and a mental health boost. 

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center


Kathrin Rehfeld, Patrick Müller, Norman Aye, Marlen Schmicker, Milos Dordevic, Jörn Kaufmann, Anita Hökelmann, Notger G. Müller. Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2017.

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