The instinctual rhythm response starts in your brain, where musical vibrations light up timing circuits that prompt you to reflexively bust a move. These same circuits are intertwined with your brain's communication and memory systems, which is why songs can trigger emotional reactions—and why you may find yourself singing, swaying, and choking up to "My Boo," despite yourself.
But while it's true that everyone "feels" the beat in this way, it's also true that some people's mind-beat connection is a little stronger. Your dance-crazy pals who seem as if they were born to boogie? They might well have been: Experts believe that genetics play a role in complex behavioral traits (e.g., having an affinity for shaking it like Shakira). The trick is, environmental factors also have an impact. If you don't have much opportunity to dance, you may never know that you have a natural talent for it.
Get on the Floor—for Your Health
You don't have to have moves like Jagger to reap any of dancing's health-enhancing benefits. "The brain rewires itself based on use," explains Joe Verghese, M.D., a professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The more time you spend on the dance floor, the more you train your brain to open those feel-good floodgates—and the more you'll start to amp up your overall well-being.
To wit, a study in Circulation: Heart Failure found that people with cardiac conditions who danced for just 20 minutes three times a week saw their heart health improve significantly more than those who stuck to traditional cardio workouts. Dancing can also help make your skeleton strong, per the National Osteoporosis Foundation, and it does wonders for your overall makeup: When researchers compared dancers with nondancers, they found evidence that dancing may preserve both motor skills and perceptual abilities.
The ample flow of mood-improving chemicals that dancing releases means, of course, that raising the roof can elevate your mental state. Just one lively dance session can slay depression more than vigorous exerciseor listening to upbeat music, according to a study in The Arts in Psychotherapy. Getting jiggy with others also leads to less stress and stronger social bonds, key factors in both mental and physical health, says Verghese.
But perhaps the coolest part about grooving is that it saves your mind—literally. Dancing gives your noggin's memory, coordination, and focus areas an intense workout, leading to stronger synapses and beefed-up gray matter. The result: Dancers can be sharper in the short term and less likely to succumb to brain diseases in the long run. A New England Journal of Medicine study of 11 physical activities found that dancing was the only one that lowered dementia risk by a whopping 76 percent.
It's never too late to augment your health by getting down, whether you start small by rocking out while cleaning your digs or go big and sign up for a class. However you choose to move, you can glean the biggest rewards by doing it for 20 to 30 minutes most days of the week. What are you waiting for? Go cut a rug.