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Dancing Your Way to Better Health

July 19, 2023

By Deborah Ann Ballard MD, MPH, Duke Integrative Medicine

As an integrative medicine physician, I appreciate the health benefits of activities that engage the mind, body, and spirit. Many people are familiar with the health benefits of yoga, Tai Chi, and qigong. When the world opened up after the social isolation imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, I discovered another thoroughly joyful activity that challenges my mind and body and lifts my spirits higher than a swing dancing flip. I discovered ballroom dancing.

Dancing Can Be a Great Way to Connect with Others in a Post-Covid World

I passed the studio every night on my way home from work at Duke Integrative Medicine, but it never occurred to me that I could be a ballroom dancer. But I had always loved the idea of dancing and wanted to find a way to socialize, so one evening, I timidly stepped into the lovely open dance studio in Durham. I was mesmerized and delighted by the smiling dancers gliding and whirling around the floor. I signed up for the introductory class, and now, seven months later, I cannot imagine life without dancing.

 

Dancing Can Improve Cognition, Strength, and Balance

Dancing has improved my posture, strength, balance, concentration, and mood. Being an evidenced-based physician, I wondered what the medical literature said about the health benefits of dancing. I had no trouble finding articles confirming that dancing is great for health! Numerous review articles demonstrate improvement in cognition, strength, balance, and overall well-being in older people who dance. 1

Dancing Can Promote Positive Changes in Brain Function

These improvements are not just subjective but can be seen in functional brain scans. In the journal 1  researchers conducted a systematic review of randomized clinical trials to investigate whether dance practice promotes neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the nervous system to develop new neuronal connections. The researchers wanted to know if dancing could alter brain volumes and structures, brain function, psychomotor adjustment, and levels of neurotrophic factors. They found positive changes. Structural changes included increased brain volume and white matter integrity. Functional changes included significant improvement in memory, attention, body balance, psychosocial parameters, and altered peripheral neurotrophic factors.

I can provide a personal attestation that dancing is simply great FUN! It is the perfect antidote to social isolation. The initial awkwardness quickly faded as I let go and enjoyed my lessons. The instructors are top-notch professional dancers, and expert teachers trained to use patience and affirmation.

I have met so many wonderful people at the dance studio, many of them my co-workers at Duke University. People of all ages and body types come to dance; everyone is very supportive and welcoming.

So, if you are looking for a way to get moving, improve your mind, and make some friends, try dancing and chasse your way to better health!

References

Teixeira-Machado L, Arida RM, de Jesus Mari J. Dance for neuroplasticity: A descriptive systematic review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Jan;96:232-240. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.12.010. Epub 2018 Dec 10. PMID: 30543905.

 

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