Author: Nicole Peritore, B.S., Exercise Science, University of Kentucky, KY Cooperative Extension
It is hard to miss the buzz around the television shows “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” These popular shows often have featured Latin dances filled with lots of quick movements and a sexy style. Not only is this type of dance fun to watch, it is quickly becoming a hit in social dancing classes and at fitness clubs. Latin Dance is more than just quick moves and lots of hip action, it can be a great way to get both physical and mental health benefits in a fun atmosphere.
There are two types of Latin dancing. The first type of Latin dance derives its name from the area from which it originates, Latin America. These dances tend to be a little more freestyle. The second type of Latin dance is referred to as International Latin and is seen in various social dancing classes, ballroom classes, and competitions. These Latin dances are the social dances such as Cha-Cha, Rumba, Samba, and Paso Doble.
Social dancing as a whole, has many health benefits for all ages. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have found that social dancing reduces the feeling of stress, increases energy levels, improves muscle tone and can even improve an individual’s coordination. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has also found that social dancing can lead to lower risks of heart disease, decrease blood pressure and assist people in managing their weight.
Social dancing is also good for the brain. Like all physical activity it increases the blood flow which brings more oxygen to the brain. The social aspect of this dancing has been shown to lead to less stress and even less depression and loneliness because of the partnership that is needed for the dance itself. And lastly, in order to complete these dances one has to memorize the steps, even if it is just the basic steps of the dance. This memorization is important to keep the brain active and alert while performing a dance as well as the mental sharpness that is necessary for knowing and being able to perform all of the different step combinations.
Latin dancing does have many other physical and mental benefits for the participant. Physical benefits of Latin dance include an increased body awareness, cardiovascular endurance, muscle toning, and even bone strength. You may have noticed from watching those dancing television shows that dancers have a certain way of moving all the time. This is because dancers generally have great body awareness. They are used to having control over their bodies and they know what their bodies are capable of. Latin dancing, and especially a Latin dancing aerobics class, will generally involve quick paced movements that are designed to get the heart rate up. This increase in heart rate over a period of time leads to greater cardiovascular endurance. Latin dance requires the use of many muscle groups at once - often arms are up in the air, hips and core are twisting, and legs and feet are moving fast all at the same time. All of this constant movement leads to a more toned and slimmed muscle tone. Lastly, like walking or jogging, Latin dance is a weight bearing activity that will help maintain bone density.
Mental benefits from Latin dance include memory improvement, increased self esteem, and stress relief. Memorizing steps and being able to recall them from week to week is a great way to improve memory. People who Latin dance often have higher self esteem because they feel comfortable with their bodies and how the body moves. It brings many people increased confidence outside of the dance class. Lastly, listening to the beat of the music and dancing is a stress relief for many participants when they are able to let go and forget some of their everyday worries. Even if the class is for an hour or two, it can have positive effects on the mind.
Overall, dancing is another way to burn off extra calories; however Latin dancing in particular can burn more calories in an hour than the equivalent time spent riding a bike or swimming. In fact, a person weighing 150-pounds can burn over 420 calories per hour salsa dancing. If one goes to an aerobic Latin dance class, such as Zumba, a 150 pound person can burn over 540 calories in just one hour!
With the various choices for exercise and physical activity Latin dancing is quickly becoming a favorite. The benefits that Latin dancing has for both the body and the mind make it a great choice for anyone who is looking for a fun way to bring activity to their lives.
Sarnataro, Barbara. Zumba: Fun is Secret Ingredient of Latin Dance Workout. Accessed on Oct 6th, 2010 from http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/zumba-fun-is-secret-ingredient-of -latin-dance.
Columbia University – Dancing for Health. New England Journal of Medicine, June 19, 2003: 348 (25): 2508 – 2516.
Bremer, Zoe. Dance as a form of exercise. British Journal of General Practice, Feb. 2007: 166.
How effective is Zumba? LIVESTRONG.COM. Accessed on Oct 6th, 2010 at : http://livestrong.com/article/69509-effective-zumba/
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