So many studies have detailed the benefits of dancing—on memory, on senior mobility, even for Parkinson’s patients—that it can be difficult to find an area in which it hasn’t proven to be valuable. But researchers at Oxford University have recently uncovered another reason to hit the floor: It can be an effective analgesic.
A study published in Evolution and Human Behavior recently examined 94 subjects (74 female) just before and after getting their groove on. First, the participants were tested for their pain threshold using a blood-pressure cuff on the arm that tightened until they expressed discomfort.
Then they were divided into groups of four. One type of foursome practiced synchronous dancing while listening to the same music on individual headphone sets. Another had the four participants learn different chronologies of movement set to the same music. The final third were taught different movements and listened to different music from one another.
When the dancing was done, researchers once again put the blood pressure cuff on the subjects' arms. They noted a marked increase in the participants' tolerance of pain.
But this tolerance wasn't expressed equally. Despite the members of each foursome being in a room together, it was the synchronous group, dancing in concert, that experienced greater pain relief. The paper’s authors concluded that dancers experienced a social bonding experience—with a release of endorphins—that was unique to duplicating moves and hearing the same tune.
There’s still nothing wrong with dancing by yourself—but the full feel-good effect may require a group effort.