By Dev Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- Dance classes are very popular amongst adolescent girls, but a recent study shows that only about one third of a typical dance class involves moderate to vigorous physical activity
- Several organized sports practices as well as dance activity might be improved to encourage larger amounts of movement based activity
You would think that dance equals movement, right?
Many prominent national health and medical associations recommend that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most days of the week. There are multiple physical and psychological benefits of that type of activity, however, several studies have shown that in general only 42% of children and 8% of adolescents are meeting these guidelines. It’s no secret that starting at the youngest ages we’ve become a much more sedentary society.
The emphasis has shifted away from the schools to provide physical activity, and these days a considerable amount of physical activity among adolescents occurs after school in structured or organized programs such as sports teams or dance lessons. Dance is particularly popular among girls, which means it has the potential to make up the gap in physical activity typically seen in adolescent girls. Dance has many health benefits such as muscle and bone strengthening, increased flexibility, improvements in balance and spatial awareness, and enhanced cognitive functioning.
A recent published study attempts to put some objective data behind the amount of physical activity typically found in dance class. New research shows that over all, the level of physical activity in children’s’ and teenagers’ dance classes is surprisingly low. On average, students spend only about one-third of their class time in moderate to vigorous physical activity.
The study used accelerometers to measure activity. Accelerometers can underestimate actual activity since they measure arm or upper body movement, but still the amount of activity the kids spent actually moving is quite low. In fairness to the dance instructors, their dance classes are usually designed around teaching dance skills and are not the type of dance class found in an aerobics studio. Dance instructors in dance studios are there to promote an art form, which is a great idea.
But the takeaway lesson is that many types of sport or dance activity don’t actually involve a lot of activity. In my experience this is certainly not limited to dance. If you observe many types of organized sports practices you’ll find a lot of kids standing around as instructions are yelled at them, or as drills are done in a sequential one v one design.
As a coach or instructor you’ve got a great opportunity to structure your sessions around more movement, which will usually lead to a better, fitter young athlete. And as parents spend some time observing the sessions and if necessary encourage more vigorous activities.