Dancing Has Some Serious Health Benefits

My senior year of high school, I opted to take salsa dancing instead of traditional gym class, because let's be real: Gym sucked. Given that schools do apparently see the wisdom in counting ballroom-style dance classes as legit ways to fulfill your physical education requirement, therefore, it's probably not surprising that a new shown that dancing has some serious health benefits. These benefits are especially apparent for sedentary senior citizens, but if sedentary senior citizens can get it, so can this sedentary 24-year-old. Maybe it's time to dust off my dancing shoes.

The study, which was recently presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions, focused on 57 Spanish-speaking Latinos over the age of 55. Statistically, Latino senior citizens tend to have higher rates of chronic diseases and lead less physically active lifestyles than their peers. David Marquez, an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and co-author of the study, thought salsa lessons would be the perfect way to increase physical activity without it feeling like scheduled exercise.

Participants met twice a week to learn dances like the Merengue and the Bachata — all part of a dance program called BAILAMOS that the researchers had devised with dance instructor Miguel Mendez. At the end of the study, participants improved their walking 400-meter walking time by an average of 38 seconds.

Now that they've established the physical benefits of dance, Marquez wants to turn the focus to mental benefits. Changing partners often, for example, as one does during a salsa class, prevents people from relying on only one person and may challenge participants cognitively. Here are a few more health benefits to dancing on the reg, because apparently it's what humans were meant to do.

1. Looser Joints

Which sounds like a gross side effect, I know, but dancing can help keep joints lubricated, lowering your risk of arthritis and osteoporosis. Are these things I want to be thinking about right now as a young person? No, but my knees hurt when it rains, so they're things I need to start thinking about.

2. A Happier Heart

Dancing helps with lipid control, which lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps protect against heart disease.

3. A Stronger Brain

Dancing, with its combination of low-impact aerobics, social interaction, and problem solving (no. seriously, have you ever tried to learn a dance quickly? There is a lot of brain power that goes into that), has been shown to lower one's risk of Alzheimer's.

4. A Better Mood

Any form of exercise leads to your body releasing endorphins, but let's be real: are you happier pounding the treadmill or tearing up the dance floor? Studies have shown that everyone from seniors to teenage girls experience a long-lasting mood boost from dance classes. So to quote The Babysitter's Club, "Why walk when you can dance?"

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