Zumba, a popular dance and aerobic-based exercise fitness program, will help you improve not only your physical health but also your emotional health — especially if you’re a couch potato.

Typical Zumba sessions (image not from the study) involve a lot of jumping and dancing around. Image via US Military.

Zumba was developed during the 1990s as a way to burn a lot of calories while also dancing to jumpy music and having fun. Around 15 million people from 186 countries reportedly practice Zumba, with many people being drawn by the dancing/feel-good aspect of it. Scientists from the University of Granada (UGR) wanted to see if the positive emotional effects of Zumba last long term. They had physically inactive university workers enroll in an exercise program carried out three days a week at the end of the workday. The exercise program lasted for one hour.

Yaira Barranco Ruiz and Emilio Villa González, who carried out the study, say that participants reported an improvement in their quality of life — a broad concept divided into 8 important dimensions: social, emotional, physical state, physical pain, physical functioning, vitality, mental health and general health. Zumba workouts led to improvements in most of these dimensions, especially the physical ones. But what’s more interesting, researchers say, is the development of the emotional dimension, which experienced the greatest improvement overall, even higher than the physical state.

“It is interesting to note that the emotional dimension, which was the one with the lowest values at the beginning, was the one with the highest values at the end of the exercise program and, therefore, the one that experienced the greatest improvement,” Ruiz and Villa explain.

However, it’s not clear if the nature of Zumba itself led to this particular progress. It’s long been documented that a healthy, active body does a lot to improve the mental and emotional state of a person. Basically, physical activity — whether or not it’s exercise — makes you healthier and happier. Since the study participants were physically inactive, it was expected that any physical activity will increase their quality of life. While the jump caused by Zumba, especially the emotional one, is impressive, the study doesn’t necessarily prove that the very nature of Zumba makes you happier. Scientists are now planning a larger study, with an intervention of 16 weeks (corresponding to an academic semester), to better study this phenomenon.

However, if your job involves sitting down for long periods of time, you might want to think about this study very seriously. Time and time again, studies have shown that physical activity is crucial for being physically and emotionally healthy. Whether or not you like dancing to Zumba beats is a different matter, but seriously — get off that chair and do something with your body.

So far, the study hasn’t been peer-reviewed, but preliminary results have been presented at the 64th American College of Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting, 2017, in Denver, Colorado, USA.

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