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New research finds that dancing can help you lose weight, reduce the size of your waist, and develop lean muscle while having fun. Maskot/Getty Images
  • A scientific review has found that dancing is a beneficial weight loss aid.
  • Dancing was found to improve body mass, BMI, waist circumference, fat percentage, and fat mass.
  • Experts say dancing burns calories and helps the development of lean muscle mass.
  • To start, you should find a dance style you enjoy, start slow, and be sure to perform a warm-up and cool-down routine.

Dancing doesn’t just feel good. New research shows it can help you lose weight, too.

The systemic review, published today in the scientific journal PLOS One, reviewed 10 studies on the effects of dance interventions on body composition in people living with overweight or obesity.

Compared to average lifestyles, dance was found to contribute to meaningful improvements in body mass, BMI, waist circumference, fat percentage, and fat mass.

The researchers concluded that “For its high efficiency and greater sense of enjoyment, dance can be a beneficial exercise intervention for fat loss.”

Paige Verity Davis, a personal trainer and founder of The Fun Fitness Coach, says these findings are a reminder of the positive impact of physical activity on weight management and body composition.

“This study basically confirms what we already know – dancing is fabulous for weight management, and improvements in BMI, waist circumference, and fat mass are to be expected,” she points out.

There are a few reasons why dance is an effective weight loss tool. First and foremost, like all forms of physical activity, it burns calories.

“Aerobic dance routines contribute to calorie expenditure, creating a negative energy balance that is conducive to weight loss,” explains Davis. “What’s more, the dynamic nature of dance means it engages various muscle groups, promoting lean muscle development.”

This is good news for anyone hoping to create sustainable weight loss, as muscle is a metabolically active tissue. A higher muscle mass means your body burns more calories on a daily basis, even while at rest.

It’s not purely physical, either. Davis says the enjoyment and social aspects of dancing can boost your adherence to physical activity.

She says you’re more likely to stick with it and, in turn, experience sustained weight loss because you enjoy it.

Like Davis, fitness coach Adam Harris says dance involves a combination of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and flexibility, making it a source of exercise that anyone can enjoy.

“The dynamic and rhythmical movements involved in dance cause the heart rate to become elevated, promoting calorie expenditure in the body and aiding in fat loss,” he explains. “What’s more, the continuous movement during dance sessions enhances your cardiovascular fitness, promoting calorie burning even after the dance session finishes.”

So, just how hard do you have to dance to see results?

For dance to be used as an effective tool for weight loss, Harris says you should aim for a moderate to high intensity level during your sessions.

“This typically involves getting the heart rate up, breaking a sweat, and feeling moderately out of breath, but not so out of breath that you can’t hold a conversation,” he explains.

A good way to gauge intensity during exercise is by using the talk test.

“If you can talk comfortably but not sing during the dance routine, you’re likely dancing at moderate intensity and working hard enough to promote weight loss,” Harris says.

While dance appears to be a great tool for helping with weight loss, it won’t be enough on its own for most people living with overweight or obesity.

Generally, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your diet and pay attention to your overall calorie consumption as well.

“Dance will be most effective for weight loss when it is complemented by a balanced diet and a calorie deficit,” points out Davis.

“While dance is burning the calories, a diet makeover plays wingman, making sure your body’s energy balance is set for success,” she explains.

Harris agrees.

He says to achieve weight loss, you must burn more calories than you consume. That doesn’t mean drastically cutting calories or restricting certain foods, but taking a sustainable approach.

“Focusing on nutrient-dense foods, portion control, and maintaining a sustainable calorie deficit will further support you in changing your BMI and body composition,” he explains.

Just as you might find an enjoyable and sustainable exercise plan in dance, you can find an enjoyable and sustainable way to eat, too.

So, if you’re on a mission to lose weight and you’ve decided dance is the exercise for you, how should you get started?

The first and most important thing to do is choose a dance style that actually makes you want to dance.

“While different dance styles offer distinct benefits, the emphasis should be on personal enjoyment and adherence,” says Davis.

“High-energy styles like Clubbercise may enhance cardiovascular fitness, while more controlled forms like ballet can contribute to muscle toning. But the best way to start is to discover what brings you joy and creates sustained engagement.”

Once you’ve found a style you love, Davis recommends starting with shorter sessions and building up to longer ones. You’ll want to incorporate a warm-up and cool-down session each time, and it’s important to stay hydrated, too.

“Be mindful of not overexerting yourself too, as it can cause injury,” Davis adds. “It’s a good idea to listen to what your body is telling you throughout.”

Finally, Harris says you should remember that rest is part of the process.

“Make sure you allow your body adequate time to recover by including rest days between dance sessions, as this will reduce your risk of burnout and injuries,” he says.

Losing weight can be challenging, but finding fun and effective ways to shed pounds, like dancing, can make the process more enjoyable and sustainable.

While dancing – like all exercise – needs to be combined with a calorie deficit to cause weight loss, it can be a more enjoyable way to drop unwanted pounds.