4 Ways Dancing Tones Your Mind, Not Just Your Body

women dancing

Though Misty Copeland makes it look effortless, dance is anything but. Every move is a complex waltz between your mind and feet — and that spells big benefits that go way beyond great posture and toned legs.

1. Dance Can Make You Happier

Dance lowers stress and raises levels of happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine. And because dancing boosts your heart rate, it increases blood flow throughout the body, including to the brain. “When the brain is oxygenated and performing at peak ability, you’re improving not only cognition but emotional well-being,” says Allison Palcsesz, board certified nurse practitioner.

Music plays a big role here too. In “Dancing and the Brain,” from On the Mind (a Harvard Medical School publication), Scott Edwards writes, “Music stimulates the brain’s reward centers, while dance activates its sensory and motor circuits.” As anyone who’s worked up a Zumba sweat knows, those reward centers light up immediately and often when you get your groove on.

2. Dance Can Make You Calmer

Mindful meditation is famous for helping anxious people dial down the racing thoughts. But you don’t have to sit cross-legged in silence to get those benefits. Dance basically sets the same idea to a beat. When you’re fully present in the studio, the phone is off and the to-do list is the farthest thing from your mind.

3. Dance Can Make You Sharper

According to David Gotthelf, Ph.D., NCSP, Licensed Psychologist Provider, “there’s a good deal of research supporting fitness as beneficial not only physically, but also in positively affecting brain functioning. Dance is a powerful example, given the executive functioning demands involving memory and focus.”

Translated to your everyday hip hop workout, this means that learning fancy steps really does tune up your brain. In fact, one study showed that the dancer’s process of “marking” steps before attempting a tricky combination is a powerful memorization tool that ultimately boosts performance. Slowly visualizing movements drills the steps into your brain, so when the music starts, you’re ready to nail it. Wouldn’t it be great to apply that approach in other parts of life, too?

4. Dance Can Teach Your Brain New Tricks

Doing the same thing differently — jumps at the barre versus in the center of the room — builds mastery. Through varied repetition, you’re retraining your brain to find alternate neural pathways to successful movement, writes Dawn Falik in Neurology Now. That’s why experts recommend brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. But we think firing up the tunes and tackling some snappy new moves is way more fun.

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