“You only do these spins if you want to, when you feel like it. There's no rhythm for me either,” says coach Janine Theunissen as she performs the salsa steps. And indeed: one participant is happily twirling, while the other is thrilled just taking a step. Forward and one step back. Because that's what they all have in common in the Wilhelmina Gasthuis Global Status category: the smile on their faces.
Chinese scientists have discovered in new research that dancing several times a week for at least three months reduces weight, fat percentage and body mass index in overweight people. An analysis of ten studies on different dance forms, conducted between 2008 and 2022, shows a stable picture: on average, participants lose about 2 kilos of weight and 3 centimeters of waist circumference. This effect was strongest among participants younger than 45 years.
“It's not tens of kilograms, but every little bit helps,” says Miriam Pignapels, a professor of kinesiology who was not involved in the research. All these “little bits” are necessary: half of adults in the Netherlands are overweight and government measures against this have little effect. With current policy, this proportion will rise to 56% in 2040, according to RIVM calculations this week.
For those who want to lose weight, a healthy, moderate diet is most important, and there is broad scientific consensus on this. But adequate exercise is also important. For mental health, against many diseases such as heart failure and type 2 diabetes, and in the fight against kilograms. According to exercise guidelines, the Dutch should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as cycling or walking, in addition to exercising twice. Just 44 percent He gets that. The pain point is usually not starting to exercise, but maintaining it.
Movement in routine
“You can't solve the obesity problem with treatment,” says Lisbeth van Rossum, MD, an internist and professor of obesity, who is also independent of the research. “In fact, once the body is seriously overweight, it tends to come back on. That's why people who have lost weight should exercise 200 to 300 minutes a week to maintain their weight. To achieve this, you need to incorporate exercise into your routine, For example by riding your bike to work or getting off the metro early every day. Or find a way to exercise that you really enjoy.
And therein lies the power of dance, predict researchers from Hunan University and others. They point to the significantly low number of dropouts in the 10 studies. “Traditional training methods such as running, cycling, and swimming are incredibly monotonous,” the researchers wrote in the scientific journal. One plus. “This makes persistence a challenge. On the other hand, dancing is also fun, which makes it easy to become a habit.”
“It's especially important that exercise be fun,” Pignapels emphasizes. “That keeps us going.” However, she comments on the researchers' logic. You have to remember: People who find dancing terrible will not participate in this study. For someone who likes Pilates or walking, this is probably best.
It's the philosophy behind Theunissen's dance classes: comfortable movement, in a way that suits each individual. “For example, I have a participant who is overweight and can't lie properly on the mat: so she has difficulty breathing.” Dance offers her solution. “But there are also people with fatigue, people over 55, and people with poor vision or hearing. The lessons are available to everyone.”
Hanni Wargers, 70, who has been dancing here for a year, agrees. 'I would say to anyone who is overweight: 'Start dancing. It doesn't matter if you don't come along, I didn't do it at first either. I do it for fun.'
Salsa, reggaeton, qi gong, African dance – everything is included in the lesson. Theunissen has previously taken dance lessons all over the world. “Until I was 40, I mainly practiced African dance, but I noticed that it was too much for my body. So I started with Qi Gong. As a transition from Qi Gong to African dance, salsa works very well.”
When it came to weight loss, all creative dance forms in the study scored equally. Participants performed Zumba, Bhangra and cheerleading dances, among others; On average, they lost about the same amount of weight.
Van Rossum points out that it is unclear whether this is due to exercise alone or whether it is mainly due to the relaxing effect of dancing. “For some people, obesity is partly due to stress. Perhaps it is better to spend an evening laughing with friends three times a week. More research is also needed to gain knowledge about long-term effects and gender differences,” says the professor. “Almost only women participated.” In this study.
At the end of the lesson, Greetje Gras, 59, headed to a chair at the back of the room to relax for a moment. “I really wanted to start running, but my back wouldn't let me,” she says. “Janine always says, ‘Give 70 percent.’ That keeps it fun and keeps me coming back.
“Travel enthusiast. Alcohol lover. Friendly entrepreneur. Coffeeaholic. Award-winning writer.”