Need a total body workout? Just dance


I’ve always wanted to be a dancer. In fact, if I could go back in time and choose an activity, I would dance.

I am absolutely intrigued by the way the body moves no matter the style. If you’ve ever watched the show “So You Think You Can Dance” you know what I’m talking about. The show offers amateur dancers the opportunity to dance their way to stardom, be it genres from ballet to hip-hop, street dance and ballroom.

Dancing has no limits on expression, creativity or even age. Music moves us deeply, and fortunately there are many health benefits in dancing to it.

Dancing is heart-healthy. Whether you’re two-stepping on a Friday night, jumping up and down at the club, or leaping across a ballet studio, you’re heart reaps the benefits of rhythmic activity. It takes cardiovascular endurance to dance the night away and when your heart is healthy you often enjoy a lower blood pressure, a higher volume of oxygen max, and increased cardiac output.

Dancing can be highly social or deeply contemplative, both of which are good for the soul.

Dancing is a social activity. Studies have shown that strong social ties and socializing with friends contribute to high self-esteem and a positive outlook.

Dancing provides many opportunities to meet other people. Joining a dance class can increase self-confidence and build social skills. Because physical activity reduces stress and tension, regular dancing gives an overall sense of well-being.

The spiritual connection to dancing can be traced back to Biblical times. Dancing was a way to express connection with the divine in both celebration and lament. As “deep calls to deep,” so our soul connects to spirit through movement and can be deeply personal and life-giving.

Recently, a study from Albert Einstein College of Medicine published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that dance can be a powerful way to improve brain health. Research measured factors such as memory, sense of well-being, serotonin and stress levels.

The study showed that while exercise is good for your overall health, the one exercise that had the most effect when it came to improving overall cognitive skills was — you guessed it — frequent dancing.

The fitness world has caught on. Jackie Sorenson’s Aerobic Dance and Jazzercise of the early 1970s paved the way for fitness through dance. In the following 30 years of fitness has seen the birth of Zumba, hip-hop, Shbam and Nia and new life breathed into ballroom dancing, belly dancing, ballet and masala bhangra. Within Zumba fitness you find numerous options, from aqua Zumba (done in the water) to ZumbaTomic (zumba for kids). Zumba’s moves incorporate hip-hop, soca, samba, salsa, merengue, mambo and martial arts. The ballet world brings fitness classes such as Ballet Barre and Pilates.

So many of us hate to exercise but love to dance. So why not do it? Regardless of your age, experience or previous opportunity, listen to the music you love, take the risk and invite yourself to the dance.

Leslie Snyder is senior program director of Healthy Living at the Walla Walla YMCA. She is a certified professional in personal training, group fitness, health coaching and as an advanced health and fitness specialist. She can be reached at


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