"You gotta have heart, all you really need is heart…" - Richard Adler
Anyone who dances can tell you that he or she feels great after dancing, and it is not surprising when one considers all of the physiological benefits that dance provides. Dance, in any form or style, is healthy for the body in a variety of ways. This week’s post addresses the benefits to the circulatory system.
The circulatory system is comprised of the heart and the many blood vessels that run throughout the body.
As we begin to dance, our hearts start to beat faster, which increases the blood flow to our muscles. As the blood is pumped through our body at a quicker pace, more oxygen is delivered to our muscles. When we do any type of physical activity, it is imperative that our muscle cells have oxygen to efficiently create energy, as was discussed in my post about breathing. Additionally, rapid blood flow helps remove any metabolic waste from our cells. Metabolic waste is what is left over after our cells create energy. Substances like excess water, and carbon dioxide need to be carried away from the cells and eliminated from the body.
As muscle use increases, the number of muscle cells increase, and there is a greater need for blood flow. To accommodate this need, the body increases the amount of capillaries found in the muscle fibers. Capillaries are the small blood vessels that branch out from the arteries and veins to ensure that blood can reach every part of the body.
Since the heart is the organ that actually pumps the blood through the body, it must work harder to increase the blood flow. The heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, the more it is used, the stronger it becomes. The heart is divided into four chambers. The top two chambers are the right atrium and the left atrium, and they receive blood from the body and from the lungs. The bottom two chambers are the right and left ventricles, which pump the blood out. The oxygen-filled blood is sent from the lungs to the left atrium, flows into the left ventricle, and is pumped out by the walls of the left ventricle toward the waiting muscles. In response to physical activity, the left ventricle grows stronger, and the walls of this chamber thicken and contract with greater force to send as much blood to the muscles as possible.
While these changes occur to enable all the physical activity that dance requires, they also benefit the body when it is at rest, and the physical activity has stopped. Dancers have a resting heart rate that is slower than an average non-exercising person because the heart has grown so efficient. A slower heart rate means the heart does not have to work as hard. It also means there is more time for the blood to fill the chambers. Additional blood enters the heart, and when this larger volume of blood is combined with the strength of the left ventricle, the heart is able to pump more blood throughout the body in less time, using less energy.
Next week’s post will address the health benefits of dance to the muscular and nervous systems.
In the meantime, I am still looking for people to share their stories about eating disorders for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Click on this link for more information if you, or someone you know, is struggling or has struggled with an eating disorder.