Benefits of Zumba for Arthritis

Zumba is a fitness program inspired by Latin dance moves. It alternates fast and slow rhythms with resistance training to build both strength and aerobic capacity. For people living with arthritis, Zumba may offer advantages over other exercise programs in that it aims to increase the range of motion of a joint while improving a person’s overall sense of vigor and well-being.

Women in Zumba class
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The History of Zumba

Zumba dates back to the mid-1990s when Alberto "Beto" Pérez, a fitness instructor in Colombia, decided to incorporate traditional salsa and merengue music into his aerobics classes.

Within the space of a few years, Beto’s classes became a huge hit and led to the formation of a business venture, known as Zumba Fitness, in 2001. The company is today a leading, multinational brand, fueled in large part by the sale of workouts DVDs promoted in popular TV infomercials.

In 2005, Beto and his partners founded the Zumba Academy to train and license Zumba instructors worldwide. The Zumba Fitness empire today encompasses branded Zumba sportswear, Zumba cruises, and Zumba video games for Wii, Xbox, and PlayStation.

Types of Zumba Fitness Programs

There are nine Zumba workout options tailored to specific age groups and fitness levels. Of these, four stand out as being beneficial for people with arthritis:

  • Zumba is the original workout program, good for all fitness levels.
  • Zumba Gold-Toning is designed for active, older adults.
  • Aqua Zumba is a pool-based program that can help reduce the impact on joints.
  • Zumba Sentao is a chair-based program well suited for persons with mobility issues.

Benefits of Dance-Based Exercise

Arthritis is a progressive disease characterized by joint inflammation and impaired mobility. These symptoms can lead many people to avoid exercise, resulting in rapid muscle loss and the gradual deterioration of a person’s cardiovascular health.

Dance-based workouts like Zumba can reverse many of these losses by combining lower-impact exercises with movements that improve the range of motion of an affected limb. Moreover, the "fun factor" of dance can often incentivize people to exercise more frequently than with traditional resistance training programs.

There are some studies to support these claims. A 2016 review of clinical research demonstrated the benefits of dance-based exercise in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Among the findings:

  • A randomized study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University Medical School concluded that dance-based exercise has no detrimental effect on people with RA. In fact, it significantly improved lower extremity function while bolstering perceptions of good health in four out of five quality of life indices.
  • A similar study from Laval University in Quebec reported that people with RA who had undergone a 12-week dance-based program significantly improved their aerobic capacity while lowering their overall pain scores. Depression, anxiety, and fatigue were also seen to improve when compared to a matched set of individuals with RA who did not exercise.
  • Subsequent investigations from Laval University reported that an eight-week course of the dance-based exercise, performed just twice weekly, improved the walking ability of even those with a severe functional disability.

In each of these studies, participants attributed their improvement to the structured, supervised nature of the program as well as the group approach to training.

A Word From Verywell

While Zumba is one of several, dance-based programs that may benefit people with arthritis, it is important to speak with your doctor before signing on to any fitness program.

Whichever you choose, be sure to adhere to the tenets of exercising with arthritis. If any movement causes pain, do not grin and bear it. Rather, modify the movement and be mindful of maintaining proper form and technique based on your current health and physical limitations.

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  1. Marks R. Dance-based exercise therapy for people with arthritis: an update and commentary. J Arthritis. 2016;5:5. doi:10.4172/2167-7921.1000214

  2. Perlman SG, Connell K, Clark A, et al. Dance‐based aerobic exercise for rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 1990;3(1):29-35. doi:10.1002/art.1790030106

  3. Noreau L, Martineau H, Roy L, Belzile M. Effects of a modified dance-based exercise on cardiorespiratory fitness, psychological state and health status of persons with rheumatoid arthritis. Am J Phys Med Rehab. 1995;74(1):19-27.

  4. Moffet H, Nareau L, Parent E, Drolet M. Feasibility of an eight-week dance-based exercise program and its effects on locomotor ability of persons with functional class III rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Care Res. 2001;12(2). doi:10.1002/1529-0131(200004)13:2<100::AID-ANR4>3.0.CO;2-V

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