The Positive Effects that Dance Can Have on Your Mental Health
You can identify a professional dancer from their physique — their limbs are lean and strong, and they walk with excellent posture. Dancing has an obvious impact on our bodies. But how can it impact our minds?
According to Psychology Today, dancing is inarguably good for your brain. Dancing combines “cerebral and cognitive thought processes with muscle memory and proprioception [the awareness of your physical position and movement] held in the cerebellum,” and the result is that your brain functions better on multiple levels. In other words, dancing is a kind of exercise that’s good for both your body and your brain.
When we speak of mental health, we usually talk about the way you feel. Just like how introducing music to children at a young age helps their brains, dancing definitely has positive effects on parts of your mental state. However, it also has a place in combating stress and the mental strain of aging.
This surface-level knowledge is great, but it doesn’t answer the question of “why.” The state of the brain and the body heavily affect one another, and it’s good to know how this works in dancing’s case so you can be sure you can trust it to work positively for your mental health. Let’s dig deeper into how dancing affects your mind and how it may continue to be beneficial to you through your life.
To understand dancing’s effect on stress, consider how it affects you as a physical activity. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that work as natural painkillers. Dancing is good for your respiratory system, which improves how you experience stress. Studies show that better respiratory functioning means less anxiety.
Additionally, dancing is often done to music, which has its own impact on our mental development. This has been proven by findings that engaging with music at a young age can be extremely beneficial for childhood development.
Music has also been shown to reduce anxiety and boost heart performance in itself. There’s solid evidence of its healing effects that can be traced back to the first World War.
“The earliest scientific studies on the effects of music in healing found it produced positive physiological reactions, including better cardiac output, respiration, pulse, and blood pressure,” write the experts at Duquesne University. “In the United States, medical professionals began using music during World War I to help soldiers manage the emotional trauma of war. By 1950, professional organizations began developing, later forming the American Music Therapy Association.”
In addition, the world of competitive dance provides a number of physical and mental health benefits. You don’t need to dance competitively in order for it to be healthy, but like with any sport, rivalry and competition can be productive if you choose to embrace them positively. A sense of accomplishment in general is good for fighting stress. So as long as there is an emphasis on the journey and improvement, and not an unhealthy focus on winning or losing, competitive dancing can be good for you.
The Role of Dance in Combating Emotional Disorders
Emotional disorders come in many different forms for different people, and sometimes people don’t recognize the physical signs of emotional illness. For instance, depression affects one’s physical body in ways that are often chalked up to diet issues, like digestion problems and weight change. Because of this, people sometimes neglect their emotional health.
In light of this, dancing can be good for depression because it can be good for one’s mood — and possibly better than other forms of exercise.
“The ample flow of mood-improving chemicals that dancing releases means, of course, that raising the roof can elevate your mental state,” Selene Yeager writes for Women’s Health. “Just one lively dance session can slay depression more than vigorous exercise or listening to upbeat music…Getting jiggy with others also leads to less stress and stronger social bonds, key factors in both mental and physical health.”
While this doesn’t take away from the necessary medication or advice from your doctor for the purpose of handling emotional disorders, it is clear that emotional and mood disorders can be helped by engaging in regular physical activity. Knowing this, it would seem that dancing has a place to shine as a supplemental treatment.
The Aging State of Your Brain
One of the reasons that you are lucky to be a dancer is that it has quantifiable benefits for your brain as it develops and fights diseases.
“Two well-publicized studies concluded that dancing is the only physical activity to reduce your chances of dementia in the way that cognitive activities do,” Nichelle Suzanne wrote in a previous piece. “Dance requires you to use multiple parts of your brain at the same time. No matter your age, this increased brain power improves your mental sharpness and agility, and can even increase your attention span.”
This can be seen when considering progressive mental disorders that come with age. A clear example of this was highlighted by CBC news, which reported on how dancing is therapeutic to people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. This is due to the activity’s rhythmic stimulation, because people with Parkinson’s reportedly speak and walk more efficiently if they have rhythmic cues to do so.
There are many correlations between dancing and progressive disorders as we age. While the verdict is still out as to why, it is important to know that dancing seems to slow the process of aging. There will hopefully be more quantifiable scientific proof of this in the future.
As you are able to see, dancing is good for your brain in the short term and the long term. It has a positive effect on your mental health, can help you fight anxiety, and may even help with age-related diseases. How has it helped you? We’d love to hear about your experiences — please leave them in the comments below!
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