I was in the best physical and mental shape of my life when I was the captain of my high school dance team, and I didn't even realize it. Of course, being 18 years old certainly helped, but I never viewed dancing as exercise; my desire to perfect my technique and master new routines masked any physical perks. My mind was always focused on choreographing combinations or perfecting my fouette turns; a toned physique was merely a welcome side effect (one that I hardly noticed until four years of college undid all my hard work).
But as Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, points out, we'd be remiss to downplay the many mental and physical benefits of dancing as a form of exercise. "Dancing is an effective way to improve your cognitive function and physical health easily," he writes on his website. It's also a great way to improve your muscle tone, strength, endurance, aerobic fitness, balance, spatial awareness, confidence, psychological well-being, and more.
As anyone who's taken a particularly good dance class can attest, rhythmic exercise has a way of making you forget you're even exercising in the first place; it's no wonder so many people listen to music while running or lifting weights. The end goal of dancing is always to have fun and master the routine rather than lose weight or get in shape.
Unsurprisingly, dancing and other rhythmic exercises or activities are also best suited to those who struggle with overthinking, which "is disabling you from making decisions or even knowing how you feel about something," explains mental health expert Sarah May B of the acclaimed podcast Help Me Be Me. But "there's a lot of new research that says that drumming, or things that involve rhythm [and] tuning into sensory things, including dance or anything related to sound" can help you regain mental balance "so that you're not so guided by the narration of your own brain."
What's your favorite dancing workout? Share your routines in the comments below, and sign up for a Zumba class in your area to give dancing a shot.