Monday Medical: Dance for your health
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
Do you want improved flexibility, core strength and balance? Then crank up the music and dance.
“There are so many great health benefits of dance,” said Jodi Bringuel, a dancer, physical therapist and certified lymphedema therapist at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs. “It strengthens muscles, it improves flexibility, balance and stability, and it even improves cognitive ability and memory.”
Below, Bringuel outlines the benefits of adding dance to your workout regimen.
Strengthen your core
Core strength is important for everything, from turning to look behind you to skiing and biking. And with dance, building core strength comes naturally.
“You’re often moving quickly, performing complex sequences, and if you’re not strong in your core, you’re going to lose your balance,” Bringuel said.
Stretching is an important part of dance, and stretches are often done before, during and after a class.
“Dance movements involve big extensions,” Bringuel said. “The more you do them, the further you can go and the more flexible you get.”
Increased flexibility has various benefits, including decreased likelihood of injury.
Workout the brain
There’s no zoning out here. With dance, the brain is hard at work.
“You have to follow steps and sequences, which strengthens neural connections,” Bringuel said. “It can improve your overall cognitive ability, memory and that mind-body connection.”
And it can help you relax. Dance releases a healthy dose of serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone, which decreases anxiety and improves mood.
Improve balance and stability
The tone, balance and stability you build in dance carry over into other sports.
“Dance can improve performance in other activities,” Bringuel said. “I’ve met people who are diehard skiers and bikers, then all of a sudden find a dance class and it adds another level of complexity and fun to their activity.”
Various studies have shown that benefits of dance and dance-like activities, such as Tai Chi, also help Parkinson’s patients and the elderly improve mobility and reduce their risk of falls.
Dance is a great way to burn calories and maintain or achieve a healthy weight. High intensity dance classes can burn as many 500 calories per hour.
Choose a class that appeals to you. From tango and country line dancing, to cardio dance and Zumba, there’s something for everyone. Don’t forget low-impact options, such as barre and Tai Chi, which can be equally challenging but less impactful on your joints.
In general, wear comfortable and non-restrictive clothing when dancing. Depending on the type of dance, you may wear sneakers, dance shoes or even go barefoot.
And start slowly. “Ramp up gradually,” Bringuel said. “Eventually, you’ll get to a point where a class a week will keep you toned and flexible, with good balance.”
Be sure to stretch before and after dancing. Bringuel recommends dynamic stretching, in which you do slow, controlled movements similar to the movements you’ll do at regular speed during the workout. Keep a careful eye on form, something a good instructor can help with.
“Pay attention to your position, making sure your knees track in line with your toes,” Bringuel said. “That’s very important in helping to protect joints.”
Fun for all
Some people skip dance because they feel they don’t have rhythm, or that they don’t have a ‘dancer’s body.’
“You don’t have to have rhythm, and it doesn’t matter what you look like — you’ll feel good when you leave,” Bringuel said.
Most important: at any age and any ability level, have fun.
“Bust out of your comfort zone and add something new to your exercise repertoire,” Bringuel said. “I think dancing is worthwhile for anybody and everybody to try.”
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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