With calendars brimming with study, work, extra-curriculars, and social events, fitting in time for exercise can fall off the radar. Getting enough exercise shouldn’t feel like another burden on your time and mental space. For those of you for whom more traditional exercise activities, such as jogging or cycling, just don’t seem appealing, you might want to consider dancing. Associated with a range of physical and mental health benefits, dancing is a fantastic exercise option. Moreover, if going to a regular dance class is primarily for personal enjoyment, then it’s more likely to be a sustainable fitness regime.
Even when undertaken at an amateur level, dancing is an effective way of improving fitness levels. Benefits differ depending on style, duration, and frequency of dance. In general, however, studies have shown that regular participation in dance can reduce the risk of developing several chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, back pain, and even neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
Furthermore, dance has beneficial effects on balance, co-ordination, and flexibility. Unlike some more traditional exercises which involve repetitive movements of a select few muscle groups, dance requires active concentration in co-ordinating and balancing complex movements and engages the whole body.
Medicine offers a rewarding and meaningful vocation, but the path can be long and sometimes testing. Developing healthy coping mechanisms early is invaluable for maintaining wellbeing, happiness, and the right mindset to thrive as doctors. Regular participation in dance has been shown to improve mood, decrease feelings of anxiety and stress, and improve self-esteem and overall quality of life across a broad range of age groups.
Dance is also an opportunity to take a mental break and reconnect with the body. It’s a chance to tune out the planning, the ‘what ifs’, and the other million little things fighting for your attention, and genuinely appreciate what it feels like to live in a body. When going about our daily routines, our body runs on autopilot while our mind is elsewhere. Dancing prompts new movements and unfamiliar forms and makes it a little trickier to translate mental instructions into actions. This compels us to reappreciate the interconnected relationship between mind and body.
Finally, dance pays tribute to the body’s functional beauty. So much of the focus in media and pop culture is on what our bodies look like and how they might look ‘better’, but that entirely misses the point. Bodies aren’t for looking at, they’re for doing things. Dance can be wonderfully expressive and cathartic, a reminder that bodies are not passive objects but active forces able to change the space and world around us.
I used to think you had to be a certain type of person to be involved with dance, and it simply was not a mould I felt I fit into. It was only after being roped into a class by a friend that I realised my mistake.
The group present at my first dance class could only be described as eclectic. It included an effortlessly classy older couple who had been married for 40 years and had danced for 30 of them, two children who were too short to comfortably dance with anyone except each other, and everyone in between. Irrespective of age, size, or experience level, every person left smiling. I am the first to admit I had my initial reservations, but the experience was overwhelmingly warm and positive. Ultimately, it sparked an interest in dance I never imagined I would have.
For anyone who is curious about starting or re-starting dance but feels intimidated, please take it from me – anyone can get involved. Round up some friends and sign up for a class, whether it be Zumba, salsa, swing, hip hop, ballroom, or anything else that takes your fancy. Alternatively, if dancing without any eyes on you is a more comfortable proposition, No Lights No Lycra dance events are held in the dark and have a fundamentally non-judgemental ethos. It may just be the one fun night out, but perhaps you’ll pick up a new way of staying happy and healthy.