Friday, November 17, 2006

Ballroom Dancing--An Easy Way to Fitness

Our column has been receiving queries about the health benefits of ballroom dancing and we are more than pleased to share with our dear readers that, indeed, even just 20 minutes of nonstop dancing increases the heart rate and produces benefits equal to low-impact aerobics.

There are actually two types of ballroom dancing: standard like the quick step, and waltz and the Latin like cha-cha, salsa and meringue. Therefore, whether you shimmy to the pulsating salsa beat or fall gracefully into a foxtrot, you are likely to burn 200-400 calories an hour. The better dancer you become and the longer you enjoy dancing, the more calories you burn.

Who can speak about the benefits of ballroom dancing better than a star athlete of the US Jerry Rice? "I lost 14 pounds dancing for eight weeks - and at 212 pounds, I was in good shape to begin with," he said. But I like the way my body changed. I stayed strong and yet became leaner, more flexible and fluid," he added. The three-time Super Bowl champ wished he had danced while playing for the San Francisco 49ers. "That added flexibility and awareness of my body would have helped prevent injuries," he explained.

An added bonus is the speed that comes with learning all that fancy footwork.
Of course, the pay-off is not purely physical. A 25-year study of nearly 500 senior citizens found that those who cut the rug regularly lowered their risk of mental decline related to aging. The researchers surmised that dancing increases blood flow to the brain, curbs feelings of loneliness and challenges the brain through learning new steps and routines.

Although women prefer dancing to traditional exercise, more guys are giving ballroom a fair shake. "Listen, I was out of my football uniform and definitely out of my comfort zone," stressed Rice. "But if I could do this, anyone can." And that's what makes hoofing it the perfect couples' workout. You don't have to be super-coordinated or even in tip-top shape. Both come with time and practice. And don't forget, it could be a lot of fun.

Like any workout, it is highly recommended that you need the proper gear. For men, that means no tight belts or ties. For women, heels and open-toed sandals are a no-no, unless you are a professional dancer. Flat comfortable shoes with leather soles and loose-fitting clothes are the way to go.

The following dance forms promise a head-to-toe workout. Swing is fast, furious and filled with flips, kicks and twirls that can burn 370 calories per hour. Tap offers the possibility of stomping away stress while slimming your thighs and improving circulation to the lower extremities. Hip-hop is at par with any step-aerobics class in terms of difficulty and the calories you will work through - about 400 an hour. And how about the more exotic belly dancing, which is all about thighs, abdomen and the buttocks - and of course, a women-only affair for now? The pace is slower and repetitive but you'll burn 300-400 calories an hour.

Whatever your choice, put on your dancing shoes and see you in the dance floor!

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