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Fitness Basics: Dance Your Way to Fitness

Whether it's techno, salsa, ballroom, or Jazzercise, dance is great exercise for everyone
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WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Exclusive Feature

Salsa, techno, swing, hip-hop, ballroom dancing: Whatever you love, it's all good. Good exercise, that is. Just about any dance style can rev your heart rate, burn calories, and tone muscles.

"Any form of dancing is good for your heart, improves balance and joint stability, helps prevent osteoporosis, burns calories ... I'm all for it," Laurence Sperling, MD, medical director of preventive cardiology at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta, tells WebMD.

The beauty is that, for many folks, dancing just doesn't feel like exercise. It's all about the joy of movement.

One senior-age lady, trapped indoors during Chicago winters, puts on her favorite CDs, then dances around her house for a good hour at a time. In Tennessee, Ron and Betty Buchanan have stayed in great shape for decades thanks to square dancing.

Rebecca Miller of Lovejoy, Ga., has been a salsa dancer for years and sometimes teaches classes. Salsa may be smooth and sexy, but it's also a serious workout. "You're sweating by the end of the night," she tells WebMD.

Then, there's Jazzercise -- still going strong since 1969, when Judi Sheppard Missett pioneered a blend of jazz dance and exercise. Back then, there weren't many fitness options for women, she tells WebMD.

"I was teaching a jazz dance class, but it was too hard for many of the women," she says. "They were just there to get in shape! I decided to make it simpler, more fun, more exciting for them."

And thus Jazzercise was born, in her dance studio in Chicago.

Today, Jazzercise is not just jazz dancing. It's a high-intensity mix of jazz plus salsa, tango, hip-hop and kickboxing -- along with low-impact Pilates, ballet, and yoga. Hand weights and exercise bands, for strength work, are part of the mix.

Studios are all over the country, even worldwide, Missett says. The classes are still 99% female, but guys are welcome in a few studios. The atmosphere is casual, chatty, girl-friendly. You'll find 30-somethings, seniors, and every age in between. Dress is nothing special -- T-shirts, sweats, stretchy Lycra, cropped tights.

Routines are carefully structured to gradually increase, then decrease, heart rate. The last 15-20 minutes of each class is devoted to strength building and toning, Missett explains.

Top music from various genres is matched to the routines. "Music is a great catalyst for movement," says Missett, who choreographs the routines (they're also reviewed by an exercise physiologist). The music and routines change often, to keep things fresh and keep muscles challenged.

This year, Jazzercise won a thumbs-up from Consumer Reports. It's the only exercise program rated by the magazine that satisfied all its criteria for a well-rounded workout.

During a 30-minute Jazzercise workout, a 200-pound person can burn 273 calories, according to Consumer Reports. Not only that, but Jazzercises provides cardiovascular benefits along with a resistance workout that works both the upper and lower body. It's also weight-bearing exercise (the kind that helps protect against bone loss).

"Jazzercise is still around because it's so good," says Gerald Endress, MS, a clinical exercise physiologist and director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

"Jazzercise is made to be fun, but to also improve aerobic capacity, strength, and endurance. And if you like that kind of jazzy dancing, it's for you. It says a lot that Jazzercise has been around so long."

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