BACKGROUND: Physical inactivity is one of the key global health challenges as it is associated with adverse effects related to ageing, weight control, physical function, longevity, and quality of life. Dancing is a form of physical activity associated with health benefits across the lifespan, even at amateur levels of participation. However, it is unclear whether dance interventions are equally as effective as other forms of physical activity.

OBJECTIVE: The aim was to systematically review the literature on the effectiveness of structured dance interventions, in comparison to structured exercise programmes, on physical health outcome measures.

METHODS: Seven databases were searched from earliest records to 4 August 2017. Studies investigating dance interventions lasting > 4 weeks that included physical health outcomes and had a structured exercise comparison group were included in the study. Screening and data extraction were performed by two reviewers, with all disagreements resolved by the primary author. Where appropriate, meta-analysis was performed or an effect size estimate generated.

RESULTS: Of 11,434 studies identified, 28 (total sample size 1276 participants) met the inclusion criteria. A variety of dance genres and structured exercise interventions were compared. Meta-analyses showed dance interventions significantly improved body composition, blood biomarkers, and musculoskeletal function. The effect of either intervention on cardiovascular function and self-perceived mobility was equivalent.

CONCLUSION: Undertaking structured dance of any genre is equally and occasionally more effective than other types of structured exercise for improving a range of health outcome measures. Health practitioners can recommend structured dance as a safe and effective exercise alternative.