Ballroom Dance and Your Health

Ballroom Dance and Your Health


Date added to ADN: Wed, February 25, 2015
Originally Published: Mon, January 09, 2012
by Doug Stockwell, M.D. (Psychiatry)

Ballroom Dance and Your Health

By Doug Stockwell, M.D. (Psychiatry)

Since the mid nineteenth century various forms of exercise have been postulated to have a salubrious effect on a person's general health. It is common knowledge that exercise involving coordination and organized movement can improve muscle tone, posture, weight control and overall energy and stamina for the body. What has only recently been scientifically studied, however, are the benefits to one's mental health of various forms of physical activity.

In 2004, studies showed that regular exercise programs in persons suffering from major depressive disorders had beneficial effects which were equal to the effect of their anti-depressant medication. Earlier studies, in otherwise healthy individuals who regularly performed an organized sport or exercise activity, have demonstrated lower rates of anxiety, depression, and various other nervous conditions. Numerous other articles in the general literature have repeated the claim of benefits of activities such as dance classes, Jazzercise®, yoga and tai chi-- all of which involve concentration and movement.

How does Ballroom dance compare? You may be a little surprised. A New England Journal of Medicine article published in June of 2003 listed (social ballroom type) dancing as the only physical activity among those examined which helped prevent development of Alzheimer's symptoms in a 21-year study period. (Other activities which did so included reading, playing board games and playing musical instruments.) More recent data published this past month have confirmed this benefit although they found other exercises which had similar effect.

The mechanism by which ballroom dancing may help prevent or ameliorate mental problems such as depression and dementia may be related to the degree of focus and organization of coordinated movements which are required in dance. The brain's cells remain capable of growth, replication and alteration of the patterns of connection well into our ninth decade and beyond. Specifically, when these cells "fire together" they will "wire together" and the combination of thinking and doing complex tasks provides a signal to the brain to release growth factors (like BDNF) and other chemical signals to reinforce the brains cognitive (thinking) functions. These improved "successful" patterns may help generate greater confidence and sense of mastery of one's environment which promote more positive attitudes and these work like a vaccination against depression and despair. More "connected" brain cells means better recall of memory, better understanding of perception and more rational logical deduction. When these mental functions are able to help a person create or perceive better outcomes he is able to reduce his stress and prevent stress-related illness like the mood disorders.

To sum it up, dance, and particularly ballroom dance, has been shown to benefit both mind and body in numerous scientific studies. It is used in treatment centers and constitutes one of the most effective modalities of combating muscle loss, osteoporosis, and joint stricture. Recent studies in an elderly population showed amazing benefits for cognitive functioning as well as reduced risk of depression.

So dance … or get left behind!


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