Tiago Villanueva: The health benefits of dancing

Tiago_VillanuevaI am a keen social dancer and take several ballroom and salsa dancing classes a week. I’ve often wondered whether dancing has any physical health benefits. I get the feeling that dancing is considered more of a socialising tool and a form of artistic expression, rather than a serious type of physical activity.

A lot of research has been carried out to determine the health benefits of physical activity, but there isn’t really much published on the health benefits of specific types of social dancing, like salsa, which have become extremely popular around the world.

London is one of the major hubs of salsa dancing in Europe, and I recently found out that Pablo Domene, a researcher at London’s Kingston University, is trying to determine whether social salsa dancing is a credible way of becoming fitter. He is studying women from 18 to 64 years of age. A friend has already participated in this research project as a volunteer, and spent a few hours at the laboratory. She had to put on a facemask that makes volunteers look like Batman’s latest enemy, Bane, as well as a series of gadgets called “portable metabolic measurement systems,” and “accelerometers.”

Domene’s study is still in progress, but there’s already some recent evidence that salsa dancing may improve postural control in the over 65 category. How many sports span such a wide age range? One of the limitations I see with Domene’s project is that it analyzes volunteers individually and not with a partner, which is how salsa is danced most of the time. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that more and more research studies will increasingly demonstrate that dancing is a well rounded way to stay in shape, both physically and spiritually. A good gym workout may be good for the body, but it can be a lonely experience, if not a tedious one. Dancing, on the other hand, is good for the cardiovascular system, and can also be an extremely rewarding and fulfilling social and human experience. I will never miss an opportunity to recommend dancing to my patients as a form of attaining or improving physical and mental fitness, whether the patient is a child or an elderly individual.

Tiago Villanueva is a locum GP based in Portugal, and a former BMJ Clegg scholar and student editor, Student BMJ. He can be followed on Twitter at @TiagoMGF