You were born to bop to a beat—true for bad dancers as much as the smooth-footed. Prove it to yourself by playing music near a toddler.
Dancing, no matter how goofy you look doing it, is an intuitive way to exercise and reap physical, social and mental rewards. Let’s nail down a few.
1. You get a cardio workout
It seems silly to include dancing’s aerobic benefit because it’s so obvious, but we’d be remiss to leave it off the list. If you loathe running, biking and other heart-pumping sports, dancing is your anti-sport, one with the upsides of traditional forms of exercise you’d rather steer clear of.
2. You get stronger and look better
Improved muscle tone is a benefit to weight-bearing forms of physical activity, and dancing is no exception. Ballet, in particular, is terrific at building core strength and bringing on good posture. Your core muscles support your spine, so the two go hand-in-hand. And good posture means you not only look better, you also feel better because you’re being good to your joints and bones.
3. Your balance and coordination improve
If you’re not good at getting your hand to do something at the same time as your foot, dancing, especially choreographed dancing, will teach you how. Balance is super important as we age, given we need it to prevent falls as our bones become frailer. You have to balance when you shift foot-to-foot or stand on one foot, as you dance. And given the range of dance types, you can choose an intensity that’s appropriate for you. Line dancing is an easy and accessible place to start.
4. Your feel-good hormones soar
Feeling good is in part due to the aerobic aspect of dancing—physical activity often triggers the release of endorphins. But music is a mood booster too, especially if you’re grooving to sounds you love. And if you don’t socialize much, dancing with others can offer person-to-person connections that make you feel good. Ballroom dance lessons improved mood among a group of older depressed adults in one study. If you’re a solo swayer, dancing lets you escape to your own mental happy place. What’s more, dancing is even a form of therapy, which started decades ago, according to the AARP.
5. Your communication skills sharpen
Solo dancing won’t give you this benefit. But if you dance with a partner or group, there’s no way around it: Dancing obliges you to come out of your skin. You’ve got to clearly understand, and sometimes clearly communicate, your next step or you’ll wind up on your tush, someone’s foot or flying off a stage.
6. You fortify your brain
A recent study of older adults suggests that learning and then doing dance sequences in a group is one way to slow cognitive decline—more than walking and other aerobic activities. Walking and cycling on a stationary bike don’t take much thought. But in order to learn, remember and execute dance patterns, especially with others, you have to use your noggin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention touts dance as a way to improve brain health, and it notes that a certain Latin ballroom dance program helped older sedentary adults with memory, attention and focus.
Journalist and yoga teacher Mitra Malek regularly edits and creates content for wellness-focused outlets, including Yoga Journal, for which she is a contributing editor. Learn more at mitramalek.com.