Continuing with this month’s theme of Researcher Wellbeing I wanted to pose the question to you, of ‘What do you do that you know enhances your wellbeing?’ and then ask yourself, do you do it enough and give it the priority in your life that it deserves?
For as long as I can remember as a child one of my main hobbies (although I had many, probably too many, back then) was dancing and I would be at dance classes at least 4 times a week by the time I was a teenager. However as an adult (after my undergraduate degree and into my PhD) work took up more and more of my time and I found it hard to justify taking time for dance classes in my busy life. Roll on a few more years and married and with a young family, it seemed almost impossible to fit any activities in my life outside of work and family time. There didn’t seem enough hours in the day to fit everything in let alone something I thought seemed so frivolous or selfish.
Thankfully it was then I realised that not prioritising some time to participate in something that used to bring me so much happiness in my life was not healthy at all and I really needed to join in with something that was just for me. So I joined a dance group (Sheffield Performing Arts) and I haven’t looked back.
In fact I can’t imagine my life without it now and I dedicate Thursday evenings to dance. In the past few years with the group I’ve had some amazing opportunities to perform, the pinnacle being in April this year performing on the Disneyland Paris stage. I’ve also had some of the most bizarre experiences of my life, like dressing as a zombie and doing a thriller dance in the freezer food section of Tesco (don’t ask!), doing a high energy dance to Copacabana in front of the public in a kitchen sales showroom (again…don’t ask, not sure how we get roped into these things)
and not to mention my starring role spray painted silver and dressed as a hip hop dancing robot (alongside my daughter as a mouse) for the televised CBeebies production of the Nutcracker!
I get so much more from my dance classes than just some exercise though (which I hadn’t appreciated before), especially with this group of fantastic ladies as I have never laughed so much as I do in some of our classes and I now see it as my weekly dose of wellbeing!
So what are the health benefits of dance, outside of the obvious exercise benefits of improving heart health, overall muscle strength, balance and coordination (although that in itself would be enough for me)?
- Uncomplicated happiness
“You appear to get a much bigger release of endorphins when you dance than during other forms of exercise; it also connects with the emotional centres in the brain. For many people, dancing prompts an emotional release – often that’s uncomplicated happiness, while for some it can make them cry. It’s cathartic – a letting go of pent-up emotions.” Dr Peter Lovatt
- Cognitive benefits
Experiments have proved the cognitive benefits of dancing. University researchers at York and Sheffield took a group of people and sent each of them into a lab where music was played for five minutes. Each had to choose from three options: to sit and listen quietly to the music, to cycle on an exercise bike while they listened or to get up and dance. All were given cognitive tasks to perform before and after.
Dr Lovatt says: “All those who chose to dance displayed improved problem-solving skills afterwards. This same study also found that the mood levels of the dancers went up. It shows that dancing along to music even for five minutes can boost happiness and improve creative-thinking patterns.”
So maybe that difficult problem I’m facing at work might be more easily solved after my dance class, making me more effective in the long run!
Dancing raising the heart rate and causes a release of feel-good endorphins into the bloodstream. It also helps reduce levels of cortisol which is a stress hormone, another reason why it makes you feel happier and more relaxed afterwards.
- Social interactions
Another big draw to dancing is the social element. “It’s scientifically proved that dancing helps with social bonding,” explains Dr Lovatt. “The synchrony involved in dancing to a beat along with other people is a powerful way for humans to connect.” I can certainly vouch for this being one of the most important elements for me. I have made some amazing friends over the last couple of years through my dance classes who I can see will be friends for life.
Benefits to others
Finally I wanted to mention how I’ve seen the benefits of dance on others, as I signed my twin daughter’s up to dance class when they were only 2 years old. Now at the age of 8, I’m so glad I did as I’m watching them not only get all the above benefits from dance but also they’re gaining self-confidence, discipline, team work and learning that no matter how tired they get they don’t quit because the hard work will pay off in the end.
I often question if I’m doing the right thing having to sometimes persuade my daughters to go to their dance class after school (rather than sit watching TV) when they moan they are tired or can’t be bothered. However every time I do, I know I’ve done the right thing when they come bouncing out of the room afterwards full of energy and in great moods because they’ve gained so much from the class both physically and mentally. I just wish they’d remember that for the next week! I’m glad I remember this for myself though as there are many occasions it crosses my mind, am I too tired to go to dance class or can I be bothered, but I know that every time I ‘force’ myself off the sofa and make the effort I feel so much better for going.
Whether I’ve encouraged you to try out a dance class or to just put some music on this evening and dance like no one’s watching you, my advice is just to give yourself the permission and the time it needs to give something different a go.
The easiest way to improve your mood – and your life – is to take time each day to focus on the simple things that bring you joy.