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Get Up and Dance to the Music

A review of 28 scientific studies found that dancing supports mental health.

Key points

  • As a form of exercise, dancing can improve mental and physical health.
  • Those who suffer from stress, mood disorders, intellectual disabilities, and other conditions can benefit from dance/movement therapy.
  • Dance therapy facilitates private self-expression but dancing on your own provides many of the same mental and physical health benefits.
Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay, used with permission
Spin, sway, and whirl your troubles away.
Source: Myriams-Fotos/Pixabay, used with permission

Are you feeling anxious? Stressed? Depressed? According to researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute in China, you may be able to help yourself by following the lead of musicians Sly and the Family Stone and, more recently, will.i.am, who told us to “get up and dance to the music!”

The researchers reviewed data from 28 trial studies published between January 2010 and March 2021, involving 2,249 participants, to analyze the effects of dancing on symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression in adults. They looked at results in both men and women, with and without musculoskeletal disorders, and found that dancing for at least 2 1/2 hours a week can help reduce symptoms of mental distress among all groups and recommend that dancing be included in any program designed to promote good mental health.

Past studies have found that therapeutic dancing—everything from ballroom to belly dancing, depending on the circumstances and the therapist—helps men and women of all ages with mood disorders and enhances the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Dancing has been found to improve the well-being of the elderly and some cancer patients and improve both the quality of life and social skills in those with intellectual disabilities or Down’s syndrome. Researchers have also found that dancing can help improve the understanding and connection between partners in relationship counseling.

Dance therapy, sometimes referred to as (or incorporated into) movement therapy, medical dance therapy, dance movement therapy, body psychotherapy, therapeutic dance, or movement integration, can also have beneficial physiological effects on health. These include better-controlled blood pressure and improved psychomotor skills.

Dancing on your own or in a dance class can be an effective form of physical exercise with the bonus of mental health benefits. Dance/movement therapy with a qualified therapist differs because it allows for private expression, a language the patient can use to help communicate their feelings and emotions to the therapist by using physical language rather than words.

Although the results of many studies on the benefits of dance therapy are based on what is considered lower quality evidence, meaning that the study design or other defined criteria generally did not meet all the requirements of higher quality research, most have found that dance/movement therapy can significantly improve quality of life for many people.

One study looking at the limitations of dance movement therapy found promising results for long-term benefits. The effects may vary depending on individual patient factors, such as degree of mobility and the severity of any mental or physical health condition.

As an “add-on” alternative therapy, however, dance can be a form of self-expression and a form of exercise that may benefit those with mental health conditions that don’t respond well to conventional treatments alone.

Note: Check with your health care providers before embarking on any new exercise or dance/movement program to make sure this type of physical activity is a good choice.

References

Salihu D, Kwan RYC, Wong EML. The effect of dancing interventions on depression symptoms, anxiety, and stress in adult without musculoskeletal disorders: An integrative review and meta-analysis. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. November 2021 (45)

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1744388121001663

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