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What is Zumba?
Zumba Fitness® is the only Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music, created by Grammy Award-winning producers, and contagious steps to form a "fitness-party" that is downright addictive. (see www.zumba.com). Zumba was originally created in the mid-90s by Beto Perez as a hybrid between traditional aerobic exercise with the infusion of Latin dance styles such as merengue, salsa, cumbia, flamenco and reggaeton. Zumba unlike traditional exercise, focuses on the music; energizing music with good rhythms seem to capture and hold people’s attention. The dance steps are easy to follow, and the cardiovascular and health benefits of exercise are well researched. Because this style of exercise is more about having fun, participants not only seem to forget they are working out, but they are more likely to return willingly and repeatedly. Since its inception in 2001, the Zumba program has grown to become the world's largest – and most successful – dance-fitness program with more than 12 million people of all shapes, sizes and ages taking weekly Zumba classes in over 110,000 locations across more than 125 countries.
Try Zumba for a Fun and Challenging Workout
By Dr. Mercola
Zumba has taken the world by storm—you’d be hard pressed to find a city without a broad roster of classes. Zumba is regarded as being a lot of fun, but how does it rate in terms of fitness?
In one scientific study by the University of Wisconsin, this Latin-inspired dancercise actually fared very well.
Zumba can help you tone and sculpt your body, burn a boatload of calories, while at the same time improving your balance, coordination, and cardio endurance.
It turns out that Zumba may also help your social life. Sporting the slogan, “Ditch the workout—join the party!” Zumba utilizes a fusion of dance moves from Salsa, Merengue, Reggaeton, and Flamenco.
The emphasis is on the fun, rather than the exercise, which draws folks who prefer dancing to pumping iron. Zumba aficionados claim that FUN is the secret ingredient.
Zumba’s Birth Was UnplannedIn 1986, Columbia-born Alberto “Beto” Perez was teaching an aerobics class in his native Cali when he discovered he’d forgotten his usual music. Desperately digging through his bag of tapes, Perez threw together a mix of his favorite salsa and meringue tunes, which ended up being an unexpected hit—and voila, Zumba was born.
After a good deal of success in Colombia and some subsequent entrepreneurial support, Zumba spread across America, starting with Miami in 1999. The word “zumba” is Spanish slang for “buzz like a bee” or “move fast”—and you really DO have to move!
There are now 12 million Zumba enthusiasts across 125 countries. It’s now offered in a variety of styles, including Zumba Gold (for seniors), Zumba Tone, Zumba Step, Aqua Zumba1—and even kid Zumba.
Is Zumba an Effective Workout, or Is It Just Fun?Despite its feverish popularity, little scientific research has been done to establish Zumba’s fitness benefits. In 2012, a team of exercise scientists were commissioned to determine whether or not Zumba fitness holds up as an effective workout.2
The study was funded by a grant from the American Council on Exercise (ACE). The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Department of Exercise and Sports Science set out to determine the average exercise intensity and energy expenditure of a typical Zumba class. They found the following:3
In comparison with other exercises tested by the University of Wisconsin, Zumba burned more calories than cardio kickboxing, step aerobics, hooping, and power yoga. This research certainly suggests that Zumba can be a highly effective total-body workout with a wide range of benefits.
The Health Benefits of ZumbaThere are plenty of anecdotal stories to support the effectiveness of Zumba—take Ashlee Tomsche, for example. Ashlee was 21 and weighed 331 pounds, but by doing Zumba, she lost 123 pounds, six dress sizes and 10 inches from her waistline.4 During a Zumba class, you engage many muscles, but you’re often unaware that you're incorporating traditional fitness moves like squats and lunges because you’re so engrossed in the music and dance. Whether you’re young or old, fit or not, it can be a fun and challenging workout from head to toe.
Zumba teachers are taught to alternate fast and slow rhythms, which simulate interval or high intensity training. Short, high-intensity intervals have been found to be much better for your heart and overall fitness than extended cardio. A study involving middle-aged adults found insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation improved after just two weeks of interval training, three times a week.
The fact that most Zumba-goers regard it as fun adds another dimension of benefits—if you truly enjoy an activity, your follow-through will probably be better than if it feels like drudgery. Research also shows that music tends to make people exercise harder—and music is a major part of Zumba.
Cornell researchers5 found that those who regard their workouts as fun eat less afterward. Conversely, those who regard their workouts as work eat more snacks and desserts to reward themselves. So, the more you can take the “work” out of your workout, the better. Instructor Kass Martin describes the range of benefits Zumba classes have to offer:6
Burns a lot of fat and caloriesGood for toningCan be adapted to any age or fitness levelGood for balance and coordinationIncreases body awarenessGoes by quicklyMakes people happyClasses are almost everywhereIt’s social—great way to meet peopleGreat stress releaseIf You’re New to Zumba, Exercise a Little CautionJust like any other new exercise or sport, there are a few precautions you should take to minimize your risk for injury. Manhattan physical therapist Luke Bongiorno reports seeing a number of Zumba injuries at his sports medicine clinic, with ankle sprains, pulled hamstrings, and calf injuries being the most common.7 In order to make sure you avoid injury, here’s some advice from the experts about how to do Zumba correctly.
First of all, make sure you’re wearing appropriate shoes. Any thin-soled sneakers or comfortable workout shoes will do. Avoid running shoes, which tend to have thick treads, as they are designed for forward movement only. The treads get in your way when doing Zumba’s many side-to-side and pivoting movements. Instructors recommend shock-absorbent cross-trainers with sufficient ankle support, which helps you pivot easily without sticking to the floor.
The most common reason people drop out or get hurt is because they start too fast. According to Mr. Bongiorno, Zumba tends to attract people who’ve been sedentary for some time and are relatively out of shape. The classes get off to a fast start with minimal warm-up, moving quickly into side-to-side and rotating hip movements, spins, and shimmies. These complex movement sequences can be challenging for beginners, and slips are commonplace. Experts advise that you move at your own pace, and avoid getting too caught up in the whirlwind around you. Have fun, but be mindful about your body and surroundings so that you don’t accidentally injure yourself.
Tips from a Zumba Master
Master Zumba Instructor Stacy Boyer provides the following tips for optimizing your Zumba experience.8 If you don’t have access to a live Zumba class or your schedule isn’t compatible, there are some free online Zumba routines.9