By: Temma Ehrenfeld
Dance and martial arts can be good for your health and well-being.
You may have noticed “Zumba,” “NIA,” or “Jazz Dance” on your gym schedule and figured it wouldn’t be a real aerobic workout. Or that it might be too demanding.
Think again. In a typical gym dance class, you can make it easier or add extra moves, if you like. It’s up to you.
To get a work out, you need to engage different muscle groups and become slightly out of breath and a bit sweaty.
Dancing can beat fast-walking as a form of exercise. That was the conclusion of a June, 2016 study that followed more than 48,000 people over the age of 40 for a decade. Regularly dancing at “moderate intensity” cut your chances of dying of cardiovascular disease by 46 percent, compared to 33 percent for fast-walking.
Dancing can protect your brain, too. In a landmark New England Journal of Medicine study of nearly 500 people recruited between the ages of 75 and 85, researchers concluded that people who danced frequently had a huge 75 percent lower chance of dementia, compared to people who didn’t participate in any of the leisure time activities studied. Filling in crossword puzzles (at least four days a week) cut your chances by 47 percent and reading 35 percent.
Especially if you’re making up your own moves–say, while doing swing or some other kind of partner dancing, you’re literally thinking on your feet. Take a look at these finalists in a swing competition this year. They’re definitely getting a workout!
Stanford dance instructor Richard Powers suggests taking dance classes–the more steps you know, the more creative you can be. Reseach shows that learning new activities–as opposed to more information–is stimulating for the brain.
In gym classes, you’ll usually be following a teacher but you can also mix it up, if you like. Nia combines dance and martial arts to give you an hour or so of cardio, muscle-building, and balance practice. Zumba classes are typically faster, geared to Latin music.
Martial arts can also get your moving and keep you engaged. Traditional practice usually incorporates meditation and breath control, and stresses self-respect, and courtesy to others. Some research reports that these practices can boost anger management and well-being and help you sleep.
In fact, martial arts can help tame aggression in children. In a study of a martial arts program for children at risk for violence and delinquency, 10 weeks of training led to better behavior.
Be aware that there are many styles. Tai-Chi, the gentlest, is popular among seniors and there’s a wealth of promising research suggesting mental and physical health benefits.