Dancing doesn’t provide kids, youth with enough exercise

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Dancing has long been considered as serving multiple purposes of entertainment, self-recreation, stress-buster and even exercise. Physical fitness is possibly one of the main reasons why parents are inclined to send their kids to dance classes; however, a new research has busted this age-old myth by showing that dancing provides only limited amounts of physical activity.

Researchers at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that out of the total time spent by kids in dance classes, just slightly more than one-third of class time was spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on an average. The remaining time, researchers say, is spent standing, listening, or stretching – activities that do not account for the required levels of physical activity. The researchers have based their findings on activity analysis of girls ages five to eighteen participating in a variety of dance class types.

Senior author James Sallis, PhD, professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health said that though dance classes are one of the most commonly used opportunities for young people to get some physical activity, they are inactive most of the time and this inactivity is rather a missed opportunity to get kids healthier.

The study involved participation from 264 girls across 66 dance classes. Researchers measured physical activity with accelerometers, special devices worn around the waist which recorded intensity of movement every 15 seconds. For the research, analysis was carried out based on two age groups – children with ages 5 – 10 and adolescents ages 11 to 18.

Researchers found that children were more active than adolescents. Further, not each of the dance types were created equally and because of this there were activity variations based on the dance type. Researchers incorporated seven dance types in the study including ballet; jazz; hip-hop; flamenco; salsa/ballet folklorico; tap; and partnered dance (which included ballroom, merengue, and swing).

All in all participants recorded an average of 17 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per class, but the figure varied by age and dance type. Class time averaged 49 minutes.

“Overall, physical activity in youth dance classes was low,” said Sallis. “The study showed 8 per cent of children and 6 per cent of adolescents met the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)’s 30-minute recommendation for after-school physical activity during dance.”

Researchers said that hip-hop aced the charts in activity level for both children and adolescents while flamenco was the least active for both groups. The researchers further revealed that in children, hip-hop averaged 57 per cent of class time engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, while flamenco averaged about 14 per cent of class time in such activity.

“Though there are important social, developmental, cultural and aesthetics benefits of dance that should be maintained and strengthened, it should be possible to increase physical activity,” said Sallis, noting there are an estimated 32,000 private dance studios in the U.S. as well as dance taught through school physical education classes and after-school programs.

Sallis hopes that dance instructors will adopt the CDC’s 30-minute after school activity recommendation and incorporate it in their classes. Researchers have some recommendations on how this can be incorporated: by making warm-up periods more vigorous; having more frequent and longer practices of dance moves and including a segment of vigorous exercise in each class to improve fitness; and emphasize greater participation in dance class types with higher levels of physical activity.

“Nothing improves youth physical and mental health in as many ways as physical activity,” said Sallis. “That is why our research group is examining multiple strategies for creating more opportunities for young people to be physically active at home, at school, and throughout the community.”

The study has been published online in the journal Pediatrics.