“Dance your cares away, worry's for another day.” Jim Henson's Fraggle's may have been on to something. Physical activity is found on countless lists of suggestions for improving mood, combating stress and releasing tension. The relationship between exercise and mood has long been established and many consider physical activity to be a natural stress-buster and anti-depressant. Aerobic exercise and dance, in particular, have been studied frequently, and consistently show a positive association between exercise and mood.
While the exact mechanisms of how exercise improves mood are still being studied, there are several theories around the idea. As a rule, those who exercise regularly generally have a more positive outlook than those who do not. This is in part attributed to the positive physical effects of regular exercise including having a healthy body weight and improved cardiovascular health. Our physical and emotional health are closely related.
Further, those who exercise regularly often have strong personal relationships. Whether it involves belonging to a walking club, taking a yoga class or being on the local softball team, exercise is often a social experience. A good sense of friendship and community are key in enhancing emotional health.
A great deal of research, however, shows that just a single instance of physical activity can improve mood. In fact, studies have shown that only ten minutes of physical exercise can boost feelings of well-being, reduce feelings of fatigue and instill a sense of vigor in the participant. Twenty minutes of activity makes a significant improvement. Enhanced circulation, better oxygenation of the body, and a release of endorphins brought on by exercise are contributing factors to improved mood.
While any type of physical activity has been shown to be beneficial, dance and aerobics style fitness classes are particularly helpful. In fact, dance movement therapy has resulted in more concentrated serum levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body. These hormones are associated with mood and the functioning of the nervous system. There are several theories as to why dance is particularly beneficial for improving mood.
Music plays a major role. Enjoyable music improves mood and those exposed to music have an improved perception of a given situation. However, dance performs better than music therapy alone. Other factors that are considered in understanding the reasons why include the range of motion associated with dance, the experience of dance as a creative outlet and the effects of rhythmic movement.
Dance and aerobics classes are an excellent outlet to work off everyday stress and blue moods. However, they are also beneficial for more serious mood disorders. If the thoughts of starting a dance class gives you pause, rest assured finding the right class is not as hard as it may seem. Most adult dance classes emphasize socialization, skill-development and creativity rather than competitiveness and strict technique.
If you're still not sure, a group fitness or dance fitness class may be the route to go. These classes generally have a wide range of body-types, fitness levels, and dance skill-levels and instructors tend to encourage creative expression and improved fitness over technical development. Here you can move to the music, be free and let go of inhibitions without worrying about making a mistake or missing a beat.
Hi, I'm Shara Vickers, a Nutritional Health and Fitness Specialist located in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Please have a look around to find out more about my approach to health and the coaching and consulting services I offer to both local and long-distance clients.