A group of people dancing for exercise.

Most people would turn to some form of running or weight lifting as their primary form of exercise. But, despite the fact dancing is widely considered a fun or leisure activity, it’s also an excellent way to stay in shape, and it can help you improve your mental health.

Taking dance lessons is one way to make sure you’re regularly hitting the dance floor, but there are bars, clubs and venues throughout the Chicago area you can go to dance. Some have special nights for specific dance styles, such as latin dancing.

Physical Benefits of Dancing

Dancing is a great way to get your heart pumping and strengthen your muscles. It works differently than most exercises, as Time magazine points out in an article. Essentially, dancing requires you to move your body in every direction at different speeds, which makes it an efficient way to burn calories. And, as opposed to many exercises, dancing is mostly a low-impact exercise, which means it’s easy on your joints and that you’re less likely to get injured.

It’s a Good Form of Cardio Exercise

The average person will burn between 330 and 488 calories – depending on their weight – in an hour long ballroom dancing session, according to Harvard Health. In comparison, a person of average weight who runs a 5K in 30 minutes will burn about 390 calories. Of course, at dance lessons you’ll be stopping and starting, which will affect the number of calories you work off, but the number of calories you can burn dancing remains comparable to other cardio exercises done at a moderate pace.

It Helps Keep You Limber

In addition to burning calories, dancing also will help you maintain flexible muscles. Dancing requires you to pose in unconventional positions and extend your arms and legs beyond comfortable limits. The best way to become more flexible is to stretch before and after dancing. Although you may encounter some muscle strain when you first start dancing for exercise, you’ll notice your flexibility getting better if you maintain a stretching regiment. Over time, it will become easier to pull off steps that require more stringent positioning.

It Improves Balance and Coordination

As you dance more, you’ll notice your balance and coordination improve as well. This will make you a better dancer, and allow you to continue pushing your body. Developing a stronger center of gravity will lead to better posture, which will make it easier to build muscle and dance for longer periods of time. You’ll also learn to use your peripherals to increase your spatial awareness, which will allow you to move around the dance floor more freely without worrying about bumping into other dancers.

Mental Benefits of Dancing

Dancing will force you to exercise your brain while also having an impact on your overall mental health by providing an outlet to relieve stress and connect with others. And while dancing shares many physical benefits with other forms of exercise, your mind benefits from dancing in ways that are not achievable doing those other exercises.

It Keeps Your Memory Sharp

Dancing requires more thinking than many other physical activities. Biking and swimming, for example, have a clear, straightforward goal: go as far as you can as fast as you can.

Dancing, on the other hand, demands that your brain work harder. You have to stay on beat; you have to know which steps are next, and you have to remain in sync with your partner. That’s a lot to think about simultaneously. But in the process of training your brain to handle all those tasks, you’ll establish a better memory and improve your multitasking ability.

It’s a Social Stimulant

Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, there are valuable takeaways associated with dancing in front of other people for both individuals and couples. If you’re introverted, dancing will force you out of your comfort zone. If you’re extroverted, dancing provides an outlet for you to meet and interact with new people. For couples, dancing can bring you closer together and give you something fun to do that falls outside typical dating activities.

Dancing also also been linked to a form of social bonding called “self-other” merging. This occurs when two strangers discover they’ve shared a similar experience or have something in common, which tends to bring them closer together. Your brain undergoes a similar experience while dancing with other people.

It Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Psychologists have prescribed dancing as a way of battling anxiety. It’s believed that forcing people who suffer from intense social anxiety to participate in an activity that can feel embarrassing to do in front of others may boost their confidence. Ideally, this will make it easier for them to succeed in other common social situations, such as meeting new people or speaking to a group.

Physical contact also is linked to anxiety. It’s healthy for humans to touch other humans, and dancing provides that, which can help further reduce stress. Physical activity in general is known to help reduce anxiety, and dancing is no different. When you exercise you release endorphins, which reduces the effects of stress on your mind and body.