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Top Three Fitness Tips from the World of Dance

Professional dancers are a pretty select group. These elite athletes are arguably among the fittest people in the world. Dance training provides flexibility, strength, speed, and agility - qualities of which we'd all like to have more. As a result, the dancer's experience provides lifelong guidance for the rest of us as we pursue our own fitness-and-exercise quest.1,2,3

Here are three key fitness tips from the dance world:

1. Hard Work. Dance training provides everything an athlete needs. But there's a lot of personal discipline and effort involved. That said, the results are magnificent. If we want comparable [for us] magnificent results, we must put in the time. We must do the hard work.

2. Process and Practice. Dancers know they're in it for the long haul. They're committed to the process of becoming a dancer and to the practice required to get where they want to go. It's a goal that takes years to accomplish and it's a goal that has no end-point.

Adults who want to get fit, be fit, and stay fit need to remember this long timeline. Fitness doesn't happen in a month or even three months. Sure, you can make good fitness gains, getting slimmer and stronger, having more endurance. But the real power comes from embracing the process and practice of fitness. The real power comes from a long-term commitment to being fit, healthy, and well. To being willing to take small steps, just as dancers literally do, day after day.

3. Mind-Set. A dancer's mind-set is all about the moment, it's all about the work-at-hand. Looked at from this perspective, being a dancer is a Zen process. The work of dance is the work of right-now. Whatever a dancer is doing in the moment has to be the best that dancer can do. Otherwise, what's the point? If the work of the moment isn't the very best you can do, you'll learn nothing, gain nothing, and your time and effort are wasted. More importantly, neither you, nor your body, nor your brain will grow.

Dancers learn these lessons in their very first class. Maximum effort is required all the time. It is supremely exciting and life-affirming to be part of such demanding activity. Strength training can be just like this. Running can be just like this. All our core exercise classes, spin classes, and yoga classes can be just like this, too.

What we can learn from dance and dancers is the value of bringing a total-commitment mind-set to all our fitness activities. Of course, there will be days when we don't completely get our act together. That's fine. That's part of what it means to be human. Our level of commitment is what keeps us going. Dancers know this. Deep in their muscles, deep in their bones. We can all learn a great deal from their approach to health and fitness.

1Rinne MB, et al: Is generic physical activity or specific exercise associated with motor abilities? Med Sci Sports Exerc 42(9):1760-1768, 2010
2Cowen VS: Functional fitness improvements after a worksite-based yoga initiative. J Bodyw Mov Ther 14(1):50-54, 2010
3Granacher U, et al: Effects of a Salsa Dance Training on Balance and Strength Performance in Older Adults. Gerontology 2012 Jan 6 [Epub ahead of print]
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