Studies have shown that dance, in particular, can decrease anxiety and boost mood more than other physical outlets. Researchers Leste and Rust (1990/1984) assigned patients with anxiety disorders to spend time in one of four settings: a modern-dance class, an exercise class, a music class, or a math class. Only the dance class significantly reduced anxiety.
So why dance in particular? Why should you dance? Why would dance be a vehicle to cope with daily stressors or even horrific tragedies? Perhaps this is based on the specific distinction that dance in itself is innately an expressive art form, not just a physical release of body tension alone.Today, media shows, such as Dancing with the Stars and So you think you can Dance, hint to this mind-body emotional connection that is inherent in the expressive power of movement.
Dance/movement therapists have long known the expressive nature of dance dating back to the effects of post-traumatic stress victims from World War II. Dance/movement therapy pioneer, Marian Chace, discovered back in the 1940s that her patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder were able to use dance therapy as a form of communication that assisted in the decrease of tension held in the body and minimized isolation. Dance/movement therapy, according to the American Dance Therapy Association, is based on the core belief that there is a fundamental interconnection between mind and body and what happens to the body can effectively influence the mind and vice versa. Dance/movement therapists are trained clinicians specializing in the interconnection between mind and body. The core premise lies within the therapeutic relationship where movement is the primary mode of connection, assessment and intervention.
There are numerous benefits to partaking in dance classes ranging from increasing your amount of daily exercise to making new friends with shared interests. Some of the benefits to increasing the amount of exercise you do are: reduced stress levels, improved relaxation, stronger bones and muscles and help to control body weight.Dance also offers an activity for people who may not consider themselves as ‘sporty’. The benefit of dance is not only that of increased exercise, but the participation in an art form, which is routed in technique, and giving the opportunity for a creative outlet.
You may have heard about the New England Journal of Medicine report on the effects of recreational activities on mental acuity in aging. Here it is in a nutshell. The 21-year study of senior citizens, 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Their method for objectively measuring mental acuity in aging was to monitor rates of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. The study wanted to see if any physical or cognitive recreational activities influenced mental acuity. They discovered that some activities had a significant beneficial effect. Other activities had none. They studied cognitive activities such as reading books, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards and playing musical instruments. And they studied physical activities like playing tennis or golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking for exercise and doing housework. One of the surprises of the study was that almost none of the physical activities appeared to offer any protection against dementia. There can be cardiovascular benefits of course, but the focus of this study was the mind.There was one important exception: the only physical activity to offer protection against dementia was frequent dancing.
Bicycling and swimming - 0% reduced risk of dementia
Playing golf - 0% reduced risk of dementia
Reading - 35% reduced risk of dementia
Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week - 47% reduced risk of dementia
Dancing frequently - 76% reduced risk of dementia. That was the greatest risk reduction of any activity studied, cognitive or physical.