Getting out on the dance floor and busting some moves could give a lift to the health of teen girls with mild mental health problems, a new study from Sweden suggests.
Results showed that girls who took twice-weekly dance classes showed more improvement in their ratings of their own health, even months after the classes ended, compared with girls in the control group.
"Dance is a well-established and popular form of physical activity, particularly for young women," the researchers wrote. "It can provide a supportive environment and an opportunity to enhance low body attitudes and physical self-perceptions."
The study, led by Anna Duberg of the Centre for Health Care Sciences, involved 112 girls between ages 13 and 18, who had what researchers call "internalizing problems." Girls with such problems may have a depressed mood, low self-worth or persistent feelings of tiredness, but their symptoms are often not severe enough to warrant psychiatric care, the researchers said. Studies have shown that an increasing percentage of teen girls are experiencing such problems, the researchers said.
About half of the girls were randomly assigned to participate in 75-minute dance classes held twice a week for eight months during each of the first two years of the three-year study. During portions of the classes, the girls created their own dance routines. The girls' mental health symptoms were not discussed during the classes, the researchers said.
The researchers looked at how each girl rated her own health on a 5-point scale before the classes began, and again three times during the study, with the last measurement coming eight months after the classes ended.
The ratings of the girls in the dance classes improved more, compared with the girls in the control group, at each of the three follow-ups.
In addition, 91 percent of the girls in the classes rated them as a positive experience, according to the study.
Exactly why a dance class may have improved the girls' health is not clear, the researchers said. It could be that the class was enjoyable and undemanding — it didn't bring the pressures that school can bring. It could also be that the girls developed a sense of ownership because they provided input into the music and choreography of the classes.
The social aspect of the class is also very important, the researchers said. The girls had an opportunity to make new friends and spend time doing something they enjoyed.
Previous studies have linked other physical activities with improvements in teen ratings of their own health.
"This study points out the role of joyful social physical activity in influencing health," the researchers said.
The findings are published Nov. 12 in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
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