FRIDAY, June 5, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- One reason many people don't stick with exercise is that it's often not that interesting. But what if you could dance your way to improved health?
Two new studies suggest that you just might be able to do that.
Presented recently at the American College of Sports Medicine meeting in Seattle, one study found that salsa dancing could improve cardiovascular fitness, and the other found that less vigorous ballroom dances such as the fox trot or tango -- although not as much of a workout as salsa -- can add 2,000 steps or so to a person's daily walking total.
"Learning to dance can be a fun, social, local and friendly way to enjoy low-intensity physical activity and skill learning," said the author of the second study, Stephen Cobley, a senior lecturer in skill acquisition and sport/exercise psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom.
Dancing, or at least watching dancing on TV, has soared in popularity recently. In the United States, "Dancing with the Stars" draws a significant audience each week, and its British counterpart, "Strictly Come Dancing," has more than 8 million viewers, according to Cobley.
Because this show was drawing so many viewers in the U.K., Cobley and his colleagues thought to capitalize on its popularity and conducted a study by offering a 12-week series of introductory ballroom dancing lessons to a group of sedentary adults.
The average age of the 27 study participants was 53, and most -- 22 -- were women. The once-a-week, two-hour classes were led by an instructor and included dances such as the tango, fox trot and cha-cha.
The classes replaced what was usually sedentary time for the participants and added about 2,000 steps to their daily total, the researchers said. Experts recommend 10,000 steps a day for good health.
"Ten thousand steps per day is the recommendation, but how many seniors are getting that?" asked sports and lifestyle nutritionist Molly Kimball, from the Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. "Two thousand steps is still good, and every little bit helps."
But, she said, different dances, such as the salsa, would provide a much greater aerobic workout.
Salsa was the focus of the other study, in which Italian researchers measured heart rate and oxygen consumption in dancers who were doing a typical salsa during lessons, salsa dancing at a night club or doing a group dance called rueda de casino.
The study included 11 pairs of dancers who were, on average, 36 years old. Maximum heart rate increased between 58 and 75 percent for those doing any of the three dances, and oxygen consumption went up between 41 percent and 56 percent, depending on the dance. Nightclub salsa dancing appeared to be the most aerobic of the three dances, though all increased heart rate and oxygen consumption, the study found.
"Salsa is a spirited dance," study author Gian Pietro Emerenziani, from the University of the Studies of Rome, in Italy, said in a statement. "With this form of dance, you are clearly getting a workout. All three types of salsa in our study, practiced frequently, will have a positive impact on health and fitness."
And dancing has other things going for it, fitness-wise.
"With dancing, you don't necessarily have to go to the gym, you don't have to run in the heat, but you're still benefiting," Kimball said. The trick, however, is to make sure you're not swapping dancing for a higher-intensity exercise, she said.
She suggests that new dancers check their heart rate while dancing to make sure they're getting the same workout they got from a spinning class or a run.
Another caveat, she said, is to make sure you don't negate the benefits of all your two-stepping by having high-calorie drinks or snacks while you're out sashaying the night away.
The AARP has more on dancing your way to good health.