Dance revolution, proven to improve brain function

Dancing offers not only the enjoyment of creative expression, but it also improves brain function

Finding the motivation to work out is a challenge for most people. There is never enough time in the day, and the mundane routine of it can make it less than favorable, but we do it nonetheless for the sake of our health. 

Offering an alternative way to exercise that seems less grueling and allows participants to express themselves creatively, group fitness dance classes have emerged on the scene.

Although the enjoyment of dancing as a form of physical exercise and an expression of creativity is appealing in and of itself, dancing also offers stimulation to the brain. This should be additional motivation for those looking to exercise.

According to a study conducted by Columbia University in 2008, music “stimulates the brain’s reward center,” and dance activates the brain’s sensory and motor circuits. This makes dancing a double threat and connects two different functions of the brain, a quality you can’t find in most other activities. 

The same study linked different regions of the brain, connecting regions of the brain responsible for input, control and the integration of choreography. The complexity of dancing engages many different parts of the brain thus making the activity far more rewarding than most.

Not only does the activity provide participants with instant gratification, however. A study conducted by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 2003 found that the social and mental benefits of dancing can reduce the risk of dementia.

“(Improvement of brain function) are due to increased blood flow, neural response when we listen to music, the psycho-social response we have when we interact with other people and the muscle-tendon junction response for stimulation of strength/balance in the human body,” Dr. Becca Rodriguez, osteopathic physician for San Diego Ballet, said to Medical Daily.

The social, and thus the mental, benefits of dancing also differ from those associated with traditional, vigorous exercise. Dancing, as well as listening to upbeat music, triggers the release of mood-improving chemicals in the brain. In fact, one study found that just one “upbeat” dance session can significantly reduce symptoms of depression.

ASU’s Sun Devil Fitness in particular offers a multitude of dance classes on all four campuses, ranging from ballroom to hip hop. There are a few dance classes in particular that are pegged as “group exercise” classes. These include Zumba and Grind.

They offer an opportunity for social interaction and vigorous exercise, but also offer the opportunity to have fun as well. It is easy to forget you are even working out. 

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“In my experience teaching dance fitness classes, many people enjoy the classes because they offer more social interaction, and the time tends to fly by,” Sarah Slinkard, program director for the SDFC, said. 

It’s important to recognize that dancing is no less legitimate than other cardio or strength-building activities. Although not all forms of exercise are created equal, dancing can burn just as many calories as a long-distance run could.

“Somebody looking to get in some cardiovascular exercise but hates to run might really enjoy a dance class because the instructor choreographs new moves for every song, which keep things interesting," Slinkard said.

“Studies have shown that aerobic dance classes do provide an excellent workout. As with any group fitness class, you get out of it what you put into it," she said. "Many dance instructors will choreograph moves to upbeat songs, and then throw in a slower song to bring the heart rate back down. Alternating slower and faster songs is essentially a type of interval training.”

The next time you struggle to get out of bed for that daily run or return to your room exhausted and bored, consider dancing, whether it be alone in your room in front of the mirror or in a group class atmosphere. It offers a far more stimulating and beneficial experience than most aerobic exercise. 


Reach the columnist at ghirneis@asu.edu or follow @ghirneise2 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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