Summary: Structured dance programs are as beneficial, and sometimes superior, to traditional physical activities for enhancing psychological and cognitive health. This systematic review and meta-analysis, involving a broad age range of participants from 7 to 85 years old, compared the effects of various dance genres against other exercises like walking and weight training.
The findings indicate improvements in emotional well-being, depression, motivation, and cognitive functions such as memory, across all age groups and even in individuals with chronic diseases. Highlighting dance’s unique benefits, the study suggests it as a viable and enjoyable alternative to conventional exercises for sustained physical activity adherence and overall health improvement.
Structured dance interventions of at least six weeks can significantly improve psychological and cognitive outcomes, matching or outperforming other physical activities.
The study spans a wide demographic, including healthy individuals and those with chronic conditions, showcasing dance’s broad applicability.
Dance not only supports physical and cognitive health but also offers social and psychological benefits, making it an engaging and sustainable form of exercise for diverse populations.
Source: University of Sydney
New research finds that undertaking structured dance of any genre is generally equal and occasionally more effective than other types of physical activity interventions for improving a range of psychological and cognitive outcomes.
A structured dance program of at least six weeks duration can significantly improve psychological and cognitive health outcomes equivalent to other forms of structured exercise interventions, finds new research from Australian researchers.
Published in Sports Medicine, the study is a large systematic review with meta-analyses investigating the effect of dance on psychological and cognitive health. The multidisciplinary authorship team includes researchers from University of Sydney, University of NSW, Macquarie University and Queensland University of Technology.
The studies in the review included participants across the lifespan (7–85 years), encompassing people who are healthy and those with chronic disease, i.e., Parkinson’s disease, heart failure, cerebral palsy, and fibromyalgia.
The dance interventions encompassed a broad range of genres, including theatrical dance, aerobic dance, traditional dance forms, and social dance, and were compared to a number of physical activities, including team sport, martial arts, walking, and weight training.
The study found that undertaking structured dance of any genre is generally equal to and occasionally more effective than other types of physical activity interventions for improving a range of psychological and cognitive outcomes including emotional well-being, depression, motivation, social cognition, and some aspects of memory.
Lead author Dr. Alycia Fong Yan from University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health and Sydney Musculoskeletal Health said, “Preliminary evidence suggests that dance may be better than other physical activities to improve psychological well-being and cognitive capacity.
“These findings were not just seen in older adults, but also younger populations and people with clinical conditions as well.
“Learning dance sequences may challenge cognition, partnered or group dance may benefit social interactions, and the artistic aspect may improve psychological well-being.
“Adherence to physical activity is an ongoing challenge in clinical trials and even more so in community. Dance can provide an enjoyable physical activity that is easier to maintain.
“Most people know that physical activity is beneficial for health compared to doing nothing, but they may not realize that dance can be an effective alternative to standard exercise like running, going to the gym, and other sports.”
This research forms the second part to Dr. Fong Yan’s well-cited systematic review exploring the effect of dance on physical health outcome measures.
In contrast to the predominant social dance genres assessed for older adults, six of the seven studies of participants under 55 years, examined the effects of dance genres that could be performed individually in a group setting such as aerobic dance and modern dance, suggesting dancing in itself improves psychological health not just the social benefits of partnered dance genres.
The study also found that in those 54 years and under, the current literature pool focuses on psychological outcomes, while for those 55 years and over, there is a greater focus on cognitive capacity. The effectiveness of dance interventions is most evident in the domains of self-efficacy, anxiety, depression, motivation, and health related quality of life, particularly in older individuals.
While there is considerably less evidence in those 16 years of age and below, dance appears to be superior to other exercise in lessening the impact of somatization (the expression of psychological distress as physical symptoms).
Dr. Fong Yan added, “Dance has far-reaching health benefits. If you stick to a physical activity, the long-term, physical health benefits will reduce the risk of health conditions related to sedentary behavior, the social connectedness and psychological effect of dance will alleviate the symptoms of mental health conditions, and improvements in cognition could aid the independence of older adults.
“Ultimately, this reduces the burden of these conditions on the health sector. Structured dance can be considered an evidence-based alternative for individuals who might prefer it to more traditional forms of exercise.”
About this mental health and cognition research news
The Effectiveness of Dance Interventions on Psychological and Cognitive Health Outcomes Compared with Other Forms of Physical Activity: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis
Physical activity is known to improve psychological and cognitive outcomes. Learning dance sequences may challenge cognition, partnered or group dance may benefit social interactions, and the artistic aspect may improve psychological wellbeing. Dance is an equally effective form of physical activity compared with other structured physical activities to improve physical health, but it is unclear how effective dance could be for psychological and cognitive outcome measures.
To systematically review the literature on the effectiveness of structured dance interventions, compared with structured exercise programmes, on psychological and cognitive outcomes across the lifespan.
Eight databases were searched from earliest records to July 2022. Studies investigating a dance intervention lasting ≥ 4 weeks, including psychological and/or cognitive health outcomes, and having a structured exercise comparison group were included. Screening and data extraction were performed by two independent reviewers at all stages. All reviewer disagreements were resolved by the primary author. Where appropriate, meta-analysis was performed, or an effect size estimate generated.
Of 21,737 records identified, 27 studies met the inclusion criteria. Total sample size of included studies was 1392 (944 females, 418 males, 30 unreported). Dance was equally as effective as other physical activity interventions in improving quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease [mean difference 3.09; 95% confidence interval (CI) − 2.13 to 8.30; p = 0.25], reducing anxiety (standardised mean difference 2.26; 95% CI − 2.37 to 6.90; p = 0.34), and improving depressive symptoms (standardised mean difference 0.78; 95% CI − 0.92 to 2.48; p = 0.37). Preliminary evidence found dance to be superior to other physical activity interventions to improve motivation, aspects of memory, and social cognition and to reduce distress. Preliminary evidence found dance to be inferior to other physical activity interventions to improve stress, self-efficacy and language fluency.
Undertaking structured dance of any genre is generally equally and occasionally more effective than other types of structured exercise for improving a range of psychological and cognitive outcomes.