Can ballet be good for my health?

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1. Raising the barre

TV programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing and BBC Young Dancer have helped us rediscover our love of dance. And one style of dance that has been enjoying a surge in popularity is ballet.

Forget the traditional image of little girls in pink tutus. These days ballet classes are just as likely to be targeted at older people as they are at pint-sized prima donnas.

But new dancers aren't lacing up their pumps with the intention of being the next Darcey Bussell or Matthew Bourne, they’re taking up ballet to keep fit. So who can benefit from ballet classes, and why?

2. Let's get physical

A ballet class provides a rigorous workout.

When we see them on stage professional dancers’ perfect poise and graceful moves make dancing look easy, but up close they are working hard and sweating!

A ballet class will target many different parts of the body. The arms, legs, stomach muscles, feet and ankles are all strengthened and toned.

Regular participation in ballet can improve posture and balance, resulting in a long, lean, elegant figure. It is, however, also an extreme form of movement that puts a lot of pressure on joints.

The physical benefits of taking up ballet will become noticeable within a few weeks of regular attendance at a class.

However the feel-good effects of a lesson will be apparent almost immediately, because in addition to a physical workout, ballet is an excellent exercise in mental well-being.

3. Exercising the brain

While dancers are exercising their bodies their brains are also being given a workout.

At a class it’s not possible to turn up and tune out as absolute concentration is required. Pupils pay close attention to the teacher, learning and repeating choreography. They must work to improve steps and positions, judging their space in the room – and all in time to music.

This can be a tricky thing to do and as such it focuses and stimulates the brain. Studies have suggested that this can help to reduce the risk of dementia.

Ballet can also help those with Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms of Parkinson’s can include poor balance and a lack of coordination skills. Regular participation in classes can temporarily alleviate these conditions.

But while a class may seem demanding, it can provide excellent stress relief, as the dancer is entirely focused in the moment.

4. Sportsmen tackling ballet

Classes are still predominantly attended by women, but as the physical benefits of ballet become more widely known more men are incorporating dance into their fitness routine.

Many professional sportsmen have already discovered how ballet can help them. Famously, footballer Rio Ferdinand trained as a ballet dancer, while in the US it is common for American footballers to take classes.

While these sportsmen may have no intention of becoming the next Billy Elliot, they understand that ballet will strengthen their muscles while improving their balance and poise.

The Scottish rugby sevens team has even received sports psychology coaching from former Bolshoi ballet dancer Misha Botting, proving that competitiveness, team work and the need for peak physical fitness are not confined to sport alone.

As sportsmen and dancing pensioners would acknowledge, ballet can improve a person’s well-being significantly. With so many classes on offer around the country there’s never been a better time to head to the barre.

5. Unusual ways to keep fit

But if ballet doesn’t appeal and the gym’s not your thing, what other unusual activities can you try?

Trampolining

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Trampolining

Trampolining strengthens legs and can help to improve co-ordination. It is also easy on the joints and provides an invigorating workout.

Fencing

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Fencing

Great for mental and physical agility, fencing strengthens and tones the body while providing a vigorous cardiovascular workout.

Hula-hooping

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Hula-hooping

Hula-hooping can help tone your body, boost energy levels, improve balance and and reduce stress.