Learn how dance and body movement can not only help you lose weight, but also affect your self-esteem along the way.
How Dance and Body Movement Support Your Journey into Better Health
We all know that cardio exercise can help you burn calories, and dance has been promoted as a form of exercise for decades — even before the aerobics craze and Jane Fonda videos.
But did you know the benefits of moving your body go well beyond physical fitness and weight loss? Getting moving, particularly with rhythm, can boost your spirits, reduce anxiety and depression, and give your self-esteem and body image a major uplift.
“Any type of movement in the body is wonderful because it keeps stress levels down and keeps the body limber and mobile,” says dancer, actress, and singer Melissa Cabey.
The Mental Health Benefits of Movement
Regular exercise changes the brain. This is especially true of cardio and high-intensity interval training, with positive effects on dopamine and endorphins, which impact mood and motivation.
While exercise isn’t a replacement for mental health care, studies suggest regular exercise improves memory and academic performance and reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.
"Movement can do more than just improve your mood. "
Movement can do more than just improve your mood. Getting regular exercise often means getting outside to enjoy the sun and fresh air, and maybe taking comfort in nature as you step away from electronic screens. You might deepen your bond with your dog as a running partner, or get to know your neighbors who are also outside. Heading to the gym can be a way to meet new friends.
And when you add rhythm to your movement, get ready to say goodbye to anxious thoughts. Think about how you feel when you hear your favorite upbeat song, and how getting up to dance can fill your body and brain with a sense of peace. It’s a great way to lift yourself up when you’re feeling down and give you a sunnier outlook on the world.
"One recent study found that “dancing to groovy music results in substantially increased feelings of pleasure, compared to listening in the absence of motion, even in individuals without previous dance training.”
One recent study found that “dancing to groovy music results in substantially increased feelings of pleasure, compared to listening in the absence of motion, even in individuals without previous dance training.”
In other words, you don’t have to take a single class or spend even a second en pointe to reap the physical and mental benefits of movement and dance. All that’s required is some good music and your willingness to move — because, basically, “when your body feels good, your mind does, too.”
Dance Promotes Positive Self-Image and Self-Esteem
Because dance is a form of unique personal expression, moving your body to rhythm can boost your self-esteem, too. Research shows that, unlike sports, dance allows for a physical expression of personality that improves total well-being and “strengthen[s] aspects of self.”
Finding your own rhythm and movement helps to dispel fears of awkwardness, and allows you to deepen your connection with your body as you move through space — with the bonus of toning your muscles and improving your body perception. Dance allows you to accept your body as it is today and to stop comparing yourself to others as you learn this new language of movement.
Because the truth is no one else cares what you look like, or how you move. You truly cannot fail.
Because the truth is no one else cares what you look like, or how you move. You truly cannot fail. In the words of Cortney Gornall, Piloxing Academy Co-Founder and Director of Education, “Dance is more than exercise, it's an art, it's a skill, it's communication. Dance is often seen as a form of self expression, and that's because dance is for you and no one else!”
You’ll probably notice benefits in other areas of your life, too — including increased energy, flexibility, and strength; better balance and posture; reduced stress, anxiety, and depression; better weight management and overall health; increased self-confidence; and even improved memory and boosted brain power.
Dancing can also strengthen the social bonds in your life and improve your long-term health “as much as adequate sleep, a good diet and not smoking,” according to Harvard Medical School.
Rhythmic movement is grounding and fortifying, bringing you into the present moment to enjoy and explore. In the words of 17th-century English poet and playwright John Dryden, “Dancing is the poetry of the foot.”
Dance can free you to embody your limitless, authentic self, even when you’re alone.
No matter how you move or what beat you keep, dance can be a beautiful unveiling of your soul. Dance can free you to embody your limitless, authentic self, even when you’re alone. Dance can help build courage and determination and deepen your connection to yourself, while also loosening judgment and worries about what anyone else thinks about you. So while you’re having fun, letting go of stress, getting more limber, and burning calories, you might find you start to appreciate your own company more, too.
As an added benefit, dance encourages a constructive health spiral — because better health leads to wanting to be even healthier, and rhythmic movement through dance is a great way to make that happen.
“With dancing, you can experience a wonderful variation of cardio,” says Melissa Cabey. “In a ballet or jazz class, dancers usually have to dance full out for about thirty seconds to a minute and a half at a full capacity, and then [the heart rate] comes back down before they go again. This is great for strengthening the heart [and] allows the body to stay in a fat-burning state all day. Dance is actually similar to HIIT [and] increases your power, endurance, and metabolic rate.”
Incorporating Dance and Body Movement into Your Daily Routine
Are you ready for even better news? Getting started couldn’t be easier.
"The internet is full of online classes and dance videos that can motivate you."
While the Rockettes recommend drawing inspiration from taking a dance class or attending a live dance performance, getting out isn’t always possible — but the internet is full of online classes and dance videos that can motivate you. You can also begin at home by creating a playlist of music that makes you want to move. You can even have a different playlist for different times of day or different parts of your movement workout. You can find further motivation — and fun — by putting together movement-ready outfits, whether your jam is tights and leotards or neon t-shirts over parachute pants.
To ensure a safe range of motion while you’re getting funky, you’ll want to start with a good warm-up to get your muscles ready. Stretching literally warms up your muscles and creates greater elasticity, making it easier to bend and twist as you move and reducing the risk of injury.
But what if you don’t know what to do next? Try watching some videos of dance steps you’d like to learn, to add to your own repertoire and to boost your sense of community. And if you want some virtual company, you can have a Zoom dance party with friends.
"The best way to start is to just get moving."
“There is something about doing the same thing at the same time with other people that really bonds us and expands our sense of self,” says Scott Wiltermuth, an organizational behavior professor at the University of Southern California, in an article from Mental Floss.
But the best way to start is to just get moving: take that first step. Be kind to yourself as you explore and expand, even if for just a few minutes. "One more step is better than none,” says Arash Javanbakht, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Wayne State University. Chances are you won’t regret it.
Your Movement, Your Way
Movement is a natural part of the human experience, so why not indulge? Dance requires only your body, some good music, and the present moment — and, in addition to supporting your weight loss journey, the payoff in fun, improved self-esteem, and better health and well-being can be huge.
"You know you are doing something positive for your body. In turn, you will feel more positively about your body image because you are showing it love.”
“Dance or any type of body movement can help our body image immensely,” says Melissa Cabey. “It increases endorphins to your brain, putting you in a better mood! When you move your body every day, you start to notice a decrease in stress. You know you are doing something positive for your body. In turn, you will feel more positively about your body image because you are showing it love.”