Dance your way to better health

Dance your way to better health

Who said exercise had to be at the gym? Here are some fun ways to get active without even noticing it.

The joy of dancing is that it’s good exercise, but so much fun that you won’t even notice you’re getting fit… Much better than trying to jog around the block! Dancing is, at heart, both art and sport. If you’ve been tempted to pull some moves like you’ve seen on TV’s Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance, but haven’t managed to make the move from the couch to the dance floor, this is the year to do it!

Why dancing is good for you

What many people don’t realise is that dancing has a number of health benefits. Dance is a full mind and body workout that burns calories and lowers your heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol. As with all kinds of exercise, dancing makes the body more sensitive to insulin, which means the insulin works better in your system. Because dancing is a weight-bearing activity, where the body works against gravity, it can also help strengthen bones, improve balance, posture and coordination. Dancing offers the opportunity to socialise and make friends, and moving your feet to a good tune can be a real pick-me-up. Apart from reducing stress, the biggest benefit of dancing is that it is fun (lots of fun!)

How to get involved

Whether you like to jive, tap, or tango, shake your belly or let yourself go to the beat, there’s a style of dancing that’s right for you. Different types of dance include ballroom, ballet, nia, afro-fusion, hip-hop and free dance, among others. The first step is to have a plan. Ask yourself what style of dance you think you might enjoy – do you like something more formal, or free? Then, consider how much time you can spare in your week, how fit you are and if you have any pre-existing injuries.

Once you know what you want, it’s time to find it! Check community noticeboards and local gyms to find out when and where classes or events are being held, and invite a friend to go with you if you feel too shy to go to the first class on your own. Convinced you have two left feet? Take lessons. Most dance studios hold beginners’ courses and welcome people with disabilities. Learning a new skill can be a real confidence booster and if you start now, you’ll definitely have new skills to show off at your end-of-year Christmas party!

What to wear

Wear comfortable clothing that gives you freedom of movement and shoes that fit the dance form. Some classes, like ballet, tap or jazz, might need special footwear depending on your level. Avoid wearing jewellery, as earrings, rings and necklaces can scratch you or get caught in clothing. Most importantly? Wear a smile.

How to warm up

Remember that because dancing isn’t the same movements that you do in daily life, you need to warm the body up and treat the dance hour like an exercise session, with a warm-up, movement preparation, dance, and cool down. Once you’ve done your warm-up and you understand the main demands of the type of dance you’re doing, you can let your body go and enjoy.

Ask the expert: Sarah Hall, Biokineticist

Here’s how to warm up for each of these dance styles:

Ballroom: A large focus of ballroom is technique and posture, so you need to ensure that in your warm-up you help lengthen your spine. The goal is to engage your neck, shoulder blades and core muscles, so that you reduce strain and tension from this form of dancing.

Nia: This dance is about moving with balance, without too much effort. It is a combination of yoga, modern dance, jazz and tai chi. A whole body warm-up with deep breathing would be best here.

Ballet: Although rhythmic and seemingly calm, ballet is one of the most demanding kinds of dance. Muscle endurance, power and strength, as well as flexibility of joints, are all required. Before starting ballet classes, it’s a good idea to try a few one-on-one classes or test out the poses so you know how far you can move.

Hip-Hop: This is an extremely physical but hugely enjoyable dance form. Hip-hop uses movements that require strength and balance to control your body weight. Body weight exercises that prepare the body for this challenge, like dips, push-ups, sit-ups, lunges and squats, would be great to include in your warm-up. It’s also a good idea to strengthen and protect the spine because it’s such a high impact form of dance.

Free dance: Spontaneous and with no choreography, free dance has no rules and boundaries. So it’s important to combine the tips of all the types of dance above and ensure that you follow the structure from the warm-up to the cool down.

Ask the expert: Fiona Prins, Diabetes Educator

“Being active helps control blood sugar levels, so when you have diabetes it’s really important to exercise. As a rule, aim for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Regular physical activity will help keep your weight down, reduce blood pressure, raise good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL) in the bloodstream. Other benefits of exercise include being able to sleep better and better health in general.”

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