Can Dancing Make You Happier and Healthier?


Shake your hips, strut your stuff, do a tango. No matter the form, dancing can boost your health and even improve your mental functioning.

Take Whitney Thore’s experience, for example. Faced with an endocrine disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome that caused her to gain more than 100 pounds, Thore was at a low point after breaking up with a significant other. Despondent and despairing, Thore went home and decided to turn on some music, according to an account that she shared with CNN Health.

Whitney Thore was on “My Big Fat Fabulous Life.” Credit: Barcroft TV/YouTube

The music — and Thore’s response to it — seemed to awaken something inside her.

“I was all alone in an apartment by myself, and I closed my eyes and just naturally let my body move the way that it wanted to, which is something I hadn’t done in over a decade. And as I’m just moving, just swaying, eventually I started moving more and more. And within minutes, I was just crying,” Whitney Thore told CNN Health.

After that, the dancing stopped. But, encouraged by a friend, Thore became something of a web sensation when she stepped back onto the dance floor to record a riveting routine. The video, titled “A Fat Girl Dancing,” went viral, garnering more than 7 million views.

Despite the overnight sensation and an appearance on “My Big Fat Fabulous Life,” Thore says that dancing, more than any fame, has turned her life around.

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“After I gained all the weight, I pretty much stopped doing any physical activity, so dance is what opened the door back up for me,” she told CNN Health.

“Once I realized that I could dance I thought, ‘well, what else can I do?’ And then I started getting back in the gym, and I started boxing and started running on a treadmill,” she said.

The Many Benefits of Dancing

Researchers have long documented the health benefits one can gain from busting a move — ranging from improving your heart and bone health to boosting your fitness levels to reducing the perception of pain and even increasing empathy.

A recent study found some intriguing results when adolescent girls took to dancing. Noting that teen girls are more likely than boys to experience psychological problems, the study authors discovered that dancing as a physical activity can help alleviate such challenges.

Credit: Chris Hunkeler/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

“It can provide a supportive environment and an opportunity to enhance low body attitudes and physical self-perceptions,” write the study authors. “It is suggested that dance can reduce disabling conditions resulting from stress.”

Another study, published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, found that dancing led to improved brain health and a slower decline in neural activity over a six-month study period.

For Thore, dancing allows a greater sense of self-expression. “Dance is the most basic and most honest form of communication between my mind and my body and between me and the world,” she said.

Perhaps most important is the ease with which you can get moving.

“You don’t need any workout tools; you don’t need any weights or machines or anything like that. Literally, all you need is yourself,” said Thore.

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