Dance Your Way To Heart Health

The hit show “Dancing with the Stars” has made a huge impression on reviving the beautiful art form of dance in the last few years.  I’m sure more than a few of us have tried to perfect some of the moves made on that program.  Anyone who thinks booging to a beat is just simply a fun spin on the dance floor has it all wrong.  Recent research now shows you may want to invest in dancing shoes instead of tennis shoes as this form of exercise is associated with a greater reduced risk of cardiovascular disease than walking.

A 2016 cohort study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, gathered 11 independent population surveys in the United Kingdom from 1995 to 2007.  Over 48,000 participants ages 40 and older who were free of cardiovascular disease at baseline were analyzed for the study.  The goal of the study was to examine whether dance participation offers a greater protection against cardiovascular disease mortality than walking and whether risk reduction associated with dancing is age or sex dependent.

Information documented for the study included having the participants report their participation on light- or moderate-intensity dancing and walking in the past 4 weeks.  The amount of physical activity was based on the frequency, duration and intensity of their participation in both types of exercise.

Dance takes on many different forms ranging from ballroom, jazz, tap, ballet, modern, and hip-hop to name a few.  It is considered to be a multidimensional type of physical activity that integrates a combination of physical, cognitive, emotional, and social elements.  It has been known that dance can have many benefits in regards to health.  One study found that frequent dancing (three or more times a week) was associated with a 76% reduction in dementia risk compared to walking which registered at a 53% reduction in dementia. 

Results from the study suggests that light-intensity walking or dancing did not reduce cardiovascular disease mortality risk but when the activities were performed at a moderate intensity or above, they were found to be more protective.  The greatest reduction of risk was for moderate-intensity dancing rather than walking.  In addition, more women than men benefitted the most from engaging in moderate-intensity dancing in helping to lower their risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

Why was moderate-intensity dancing apparently found to be more protective against cardiovascular disease than brisk walking?  Researchers speculated that dancing is a social activity making it very enjoyable and entertaining.  The feeling of having fun while exercising buffers the effect of psychosocial stress.  Another theory is that certain types of dance forms such as folk or ballroom dancing are classified at a higher moderate-intensity range because they often include short vigorous intensity bouts of 3-4 minutes followed by a similar duration of light-intensity dancing.  This type of movement mimics high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which has been shown to have beneficial effects on cardiovascular health.  There is also the fact that people who enjoy dancing often continue with it for many years compared to other forms of exercise in which there is a higher dropout rate.