How Zumba can help people overcome anxiety, PTSD and depression
There is now a growing realization that we need to take care of our mind as much as our body.
Mental health has for years been a marginal area in healthcare. We have, quite logically, focused on what we can see and what we can measure.
Excess weight, for example, is a problem we can easily identify and understand, and although it is often a real challenge to address it we know what steps to take. Equally, something more nebulous like blood pressure is now widely understood, with clear lifestyle change recommendations and, as a last resort, proven medication available to normalize it.
Thankfully there is now a growing realization that we need to take care of our mind as much as our body. Many governments around the world are increasing resources in this field, mindful that a healthy mindset can also be the first step towards a healthy body, and vice-versa.
Measuring mental health is difficult. There are some biologicals tests, for example EEG brainwave monitoring or salivary cortisol as proxy measures for stress levels, but these can be challenging to administer and don’t necessarily give the full picture. We tend to rely on ‘reported’ mental health, i.e. asking people how they feel. A single report is, in itself, not particularly helpful, but regular reports from the same individual start to become meaningful.
With Zumba® we have been inundated with stories from people all over the world reporting improved mental health with regular practice. I have to be honest and say this was not something we set out to achieve, but it is something of which I am immensely proud.
Many people come to Zumba® looking to lose weight, and many people achieve this, as they would with most regular exercise. What is fascinating to me is the people who believe that by losing weight they will become happier, but find themselves achieving a happier state of mind through Zumba® irrespective of their weight. Our classes give people body confidence, which in itself reduces the perceived need to lose weight in order to be comfortable with yourself.
Of course, achieving a healthy weight is important, for body and for mind. But we find that this tends to follow the achievement of greater happiness, not the other way around.
So how does Zumba® achieve this ? Aside from the well reported benefit of regular exercise on mental health I can only share my opinion, formed through countless hours of teaching and interacting with students across the globe.
First of all, Zumba® is a music-led activity and we structure the class such that the music is uninterrupted. A properly licensed instructor has learned to signal the forthcoming moves without shouting over the music and as such we feel the students can become more immersed in the soundtrack to the class.
Losing yourself in the music, as you would in a club or a concert, is in itself a therapeutic process. Rather like meditation, being in a space where you are only focused on the music, the steps and the instructor prevents other thoughts from entering and thereby eases stress.
Plus, the non-judgmental atmosphere and the shared class experience feeds our need for acceptance and community. Many great friendships are formed in our classes, but, more importantly, even when participants have no contact with their fellow class members outside the class, the hour they spend together nourishes the need for company. The simple act of dancing in union creates a bond, irrespective of any other contact.
Ultimately, it is important to state that I am not a physician and must recommend that people see their doctor if they feel they are suffering from anxiety, PTSD or depression. Increasingly we are hearing about doctors prescribing, or at least proposing, Zumba® rather than generic exercise, but everyone is different and should seek professional guidance as the start of their path to recovery.
I’ll end by saying that prevention is better than cure. It is never too late to start exercising and with Zumba® we believe you’ll achieve much more than just burning calories. Come and join us!
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