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Zumba is often described a combination of gym class and dance party. It is a great way to burn calories and build agility, but without an appropriate warmup, muscle cramps, pulled hamstrings, and ankle injuries are all too common in Zumba classes

The Latin Upgrade to Jazzercise Doesn't Have to Be Hazardous

"Ditch the workout, join the party," the Zumba Fitness Program tells us.

Zumba is the accidental creation of Alberto "Beto" Perez, an aerobics instructor in Cali, Colombia. One day in the early 1990's, the story goes, Mr. Perez dashed out the door to go to teach his aerobics class without taking his recorded dance music. When Perez arrived at the gym without his usual music, he reached into his backpack for tapes of salsa and merengue music he enjoyed at home.

The class was electrified by the Latin music, Perez often tells instructors. Instead of the class using the music to keep up with the pace of their exercise routine, the music "used the class" to inspire a dance routine that was even more energizing. Smiles broke out all around the room, and Perez realized that he had just conducted his first Zumba Fitness Party.

In 2001, Perez emigrated from Colombia to the United States. In Miami, he teamed up with Alberto Aghion and Alberto Perlman (whose mother had been in the class) to create a business and to trademark the Zumba name. They created a DVD, and an infomercial, and over the last 10 years have established an exercise method used at over 110,000 locations in 125 countries.

There are Zumba video games for Xbox, wii, and PS3. Perez and his collaborators created Aqua Zumba for people who have joint issues, Zumba Gold for beginners and for seniors, Zumba Toning for body toning, Zumba on the Circuit for circuit training, and Zumbatomic for children. Zumba programs incorporate axé music, belly dancing, bhangra, chachacha, flamenco, hip hop, mambo, merengue regaaeton, samba, soca, and tango dance moves.

Does Zumba Really Work?

The Zumba website advertises that a typical workout for adults burns 500 to 1,000 calories. The Zumba Calorie counter computes that a person who weighs 100 kilos (220 pounds) doing a fast routine for 60 minutes, for example, would burn 893 calories. But there is a lot of evidence from many sources other than Zumba that dance routines benefit health in multiple ways:

  • Researchers at Chiang Mai University in Thailand tracked the progress of 24 sedentary women who took an aerobic dance class for six weeks. They found that levels of macrophage migration factor, a factor in inflammation swelling belly fat, plummeted during six weeks of regular dance sessions. They also found that overall immune resistance increased.
  • Researchers at Brigham Young University measured the energy expenditures of children's exercise games. They found that Dance Dance burned more calories than walking outdoors than playing Nintendo wii (Boxing).
  • Researchers at the University of Granada in Spain found that a dance routine called Biodanza relieved the pain of fibromyalgia in women who did the routine once a week for 3 months.
  • Researchers at the University of Bochrum in Germany found that seniors aged 65 to 84 who did recreational dancing were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

Dance programs like Zumba have many more benefits than just burning calories and losing weight. But what about injuries?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Bailey BW, McInnis K. Energy cost of exergaming: a comparison of the energy cost of 6 forms of exergaming. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011 Jul, 165(7):597-602. Epub 2011 Mar 7.
  • Kattenstroth JC, Kolankowska I, Kalisch T, Dinse HR. Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with multi-year dancing activities. Front Aging Neurosci. 2010 Jul 21, 2. pii: 31.
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