Can you tango, waltz or limbo your way to a longer life? Dancing can significantly improve heart and brain health and may even add years onto a person's life – here's what the scientists have to say.
Dancing is an excellent physical activity for heart-health, according to the British Heart Foundation. It helps your joints stay flexible, stretches muscles around the body and raises heart rate as well. Even if it's just once or twice a week, dancing can have beneficial impacts in all areas of physical health1. But that's not all; some researchers have suggested that dancing, especially when done to music, could help to improve memory and protect brain function in later life. Ballroom dancing around your bedroom, just once a week, could have a significant impact on your body and mind – here's why.
People who dance are nearly half as likely to develop heart disease as non-dancers2. This impressive statistic comes from a 2016 study led by Professor Dafna Merom of Western Sydney University. By tracking the lives of over 45,000 volunteers for 12 years, they found a link between moderate-intensity dance and a reduced risk of dying from heart disease.
They even state that dancing may be a better exercise than walking, based on their data, as dancers had a slightly lower risk of developing heart disease than walkers. If you're trying to get more exercise, but struggling to stay motivated, dancing could be the ideal activity for you. Merom and her colleagues suggest that people who find walking, cycling and other exercises hard to adhere to give dancing a go2.
A significant number of us find dancing to be a challenge, and more often than not, quite embarrassing. There are no special dances or movements that specifically improve health or increase longevity; you can tango, line dance or waltz, anything goes as long as you're moving around and having fun. You can dance solo or get your friends and family involved as well; working as a group can be especially good for our health. Spending time with others is known to reduce stress and anxiety, two major risk factors for developing heart disease, diabetes and stroke3.
Dancing could help to improve and maintain cognition, especially in older adults, according to a 2018 study. In a study of people aged 65 plus, volunteers who danced to music had significant improvements in cognitive function. Their analysis revealed that memory, intelligence and recognition skills were better than volunteers who exercised in silence4. Dancing is a combination of heart-healthy aerobic exercise and mental processing – it's a work out for your body and brain5.
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