In a meta-analysis, the authors of the study discovered a clear link between an increased use of dance, and that an increased use of dance was associated with a decrease in anxiety and depression.
“The study shows that dance can make people feel happier, and this is a good thing, for reasons that should be obvious,” said co-author Elizabeth J. McLean, a clinical psychologist at the University of South Australia in Australia.
When they looked at the associations between a person’s activity level and their level of depression, they discovered that people who reported engaging in activity at that level tended to have lower levels of depression compared to people who reported dancing less than the usual level. And among people who reported the most frequent use of dance, higher levels of dance were found to be linked with lower levels of depression and anxiety.
“We wanted to find out what’s the key to the relationship between dancing and depression or anxiety,” McLean said. “If we look at how our activity levels change, it’s quite clear that one thing that dances do is increase our activity, which makes us feel happier.”
The researchers also found that people who were least likely to dance had significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety, compared to people who were most likely to dance. It’s likely that, the researchers say, this means that simply engaging in dance is linked with some level of happiness — but it’s important to note, the study doesn’t provide a causal connection between dancing and mental health.
“Dance does raise your activity for a number of reasons,” McLean said. “Maybe it’s because it makes you feel connected to others, or maybe dance makes you feel relaxed by bringing people together. It seems like we just found that there’s a general increase in activity that’s connected to happiness.”
McLean also said the study highlights an additional issue concerning dance as a mental health tool.
“You might be wondering if this study has anything to do with the stigma surrounding mental health?” she said. “If it was found that a person’s activity level was linked with higher levels of depression, it would be one thing. That’s not the case, though — it’s people who dance who are found to have less depressive symptoms. A person can be a dancer and not be happy about it.”
However, McLean added, dancing does not have to be detrimental when it comes to improving health.
“As soon as we consider a dance like ballet or music or anything other
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