Teen girls who took dance classes saw reductions in their stress levels and psychosomatic symptoms, researchers found.
In a randomized trial, girls ages 13 to 18 with internalizing problems, who were involved in an 8-month dance intervention, self-reported improvements in their health status and overwhelmingly deemed the dance classes as a positive experience (91%), according to Anna Duberg, RPT, of the Center for Health Care Sciences in Orebro, Sweden, and colleagues.
“[Dance] can provide a supportive environment and an opportunity to enhance low body attitudes and physical self-perceptions,” wrote Duberg’s group in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, adding that the intervention could help reduce “disabling conditions resulting from stress.”
The number of adolescents who rate themselves as having poor health is three times higher for girls than boys, the authors pointed out. This is especially true for young girls with internalizing problems such as depression and low self-worth.
“Exercise is considered an active strategy to prevent and treat depression and anxiety for school-aged youth,” they explained. “It has been shown to promote positive thoughts and feelings, enhance confidence to cope with problems, and provide increased confidence and self-control.”
The study measured self-rated health changes of 112 Swedish girls, who paid multiple visits to the school nurse for psychosomatic symptoms including head, stomach, neck, back, or shoulder pain and persistent negative emotional affect or tiredness.
They were randomized to either 8 months of twice-weekly, 75 minute-long dance lessons under the supervision of trained dance instructors, or compensation with free movie passes during periodic interviews. All participants were offered school healthcare as usual.
The girls’ internalizing problems were not brought up during the dance classes, the authors said.
They interviewed the teens at baseline, 8 months, 12 months, and 20 months on self-reported health, emotional distress, psychosomatic symptoms, negative affect, depression, sleep, school, interests, and enjoyment of dance, as well as adherence to and experience with the dance intervention in the study group. Self-reported health was measured on a five-point scale, with 1 indicating poor health, and 5 indicating very good health.
At baseline, the mean score on the scale was 3.32 for the dance intervention group and 3.75 for the control group.
Those in the dance group saw reductions in self-reported stress at 8-month (mean difference 0.30, 95% CI -0.01 to 0.61) and 12-month (mean difference 0.62, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.99) follow-up compared with participants who did not take dance classes.
The results held firm over the long term, with the intervention group reporting reductions at 20-months of follow-up (mean difference 0.40, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.77).
Adherence to the dance intervention included 13% who attended more than 89% of the classes, 54% who attended half to 89% of the classes, and 33% who attended less than half to 10% of the classes.
Only 6% rated the dance experience as neutral, and 2% called the experience negative.
Self-reported health was higher in the dance intervention group at every follow-up interview compared with controls, the researchers found, with differences as high as 62% at 12 months after the start of the intervention. Eighty-seven percent of participants self-reported good or very good health at 12 months in the dance group versus 76% in the control group.
The researchers suggested possible mechanisms of action in the dance intervention, including lack of demands and pressures associated with school; the opportunity to have input into the choreography and music used during the intervention; and social aspects involved with the classes.
“It is possible that the social aspect combined with the attention given to the girls affected self-reported health,” they wrote.
The study was limited by lower baseline scores in the intervention group versus the control group, and lower scores generally improve more than higher scores. There also was the risk for bias because of self-reporting and because the girls knew the purpose of the study. Finally, the study examined the effect of a whole intervention, not the actual dancing.
Nonetheless, the study “points out the role of joyful social physical activity in influencing health,” the group concluded, noting that future studies could look at multiple intervention arms.
– Cole Petrochko, Staff Writer, MedPage Today