"Stifling an urge to dance is bad for your health - it rusts your spirit and your hips." - Terri Guillemets
We begin dancing, our heart rate increases, the number of blood vessels increases, increased blood flow delivers more oxygen and nutrients to our muscles, and our circulatory system becomes more efficient as was discussed in last week's post.
Additionally, our nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems are called upon to work at their peak levels, and our bodies reap the benefits.
As we dance, our nervous system responds in a variety of ways. The nervous system is continually growing and adapting to accommodate the body’s needs. Each time we engage in a new movement, a new neural pathway is formed. This pathway is the route that a message travels on to go from the brain to the muscle and back to the brain again and is made up of specialized cells called neurons. Messages are passed along the neurons with the help of substances called neurotransmitters. As we begin to move, the brain, which is the control center of the nervous system, signals the body to release extra proteins and neurotransmitters. The proteins promote new neuron growth, and the neurotransmitters help to improve the speed at which messages travel the pathways. These new, efficient neural pathways increase muscle responses and coordination.
Additionally, when we dance, the brain releases endorphins, which are hormones that promote feelings of happiness and euphoria. These feelings help improve moods, and studies have shown that physically active people recover more quickly from mild depression and have a healthier mental state.
Dance can also create a healthier skeletal system. Since dance is a weight bearing activity, it can positively affect bone density. The cells in our skeletal system respond to increased weight loads, or stressors, by increasing bone tissue to protect the body. The constant impact with the floor that occurs when dancers execute dance steps, jump, and practice choreographed falls increases the load, or amount of weight, the body must support. The bones respond by adding more layers of protein cells called collagen to support the load. These layers increase bone density and help protect against broken bones and stress fractures. Dancing can also decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis, which is a bone disease that manifests itself in brittle bones that break because they are not dense enough to support the body and the loads placed upon it.
Lastly, the muscular system’s response to dance is also a healthy one. As we dance and call upon our muscles to move our bodies in various ways, several things happen. As physical activity increases, the number of mitochondria found in muscle cells increases. The mitochondria are the organelles found in individual cells, which produce the ATP, or energy, that the body needs to move. The more mitochondria in our muscles cells, the greater the energy production capabilities. As muscles are exercised continually, individual muscle fiber size increases by 40-50%. As fiber size increases, muscles grow stronger, the nervous system must create more neural pathways, and muscles generate more power. Additionally, connective tissue like tendons and ligaments also grow stronger, and the body develops greater protection against injuries.
Clearly, dance provides the body with a multitude of benefits and can create happy, healthy people when they take the time to learn to dance in ways that are anatomically correct for their individual bodies.