Created in the mid 90s by Colombian dancer and choreographer Alberto "Beto" Perez, Zumba blends high-energy aerobics with Latin dancing performed to energetic music. Nowadays, Zumba is performed by more than 15 million people across 180 countries, making it one of the most popular fitness programs on the planet.
The main appeal of Zumba dance comes from the fact that it's fun. Instead of the drudgery of going to the gym and sticking to a monotonous workout routine, you get to dance to hip-hop, samba, salsa, mambo, and other music with friends and strangers. Because people find Zumba classes fun, they keep coming back, which is why it's a great option if have trouble staying motivated with fitness.
And while there's no doubt Zumba is fun and engaging, is it effective for weight loss?
So, what is Zumba actually?
Zumba is defined as an intense aerobic workout. However, there are different Zumba classes for different ages and with different levels of exertion. Some incorporate interval training, strength training, and other forms of training as well. There is a Zumba workout for all levels, ages, and goals. But for the sake of this article, we'll focus mostly classic Zumba – an aerobic workout that alternates intervals of high and low intensity. To help you understand why Zumba is a great workout, let's first explain what aerobic exercise does.
Aerobic exercise promotes the circulation of oxygen through the blood by increasing heart and breathing rates. Examples of aerobic exercises are running, swimming, and cycling. If performed at a too high intensity, aerobic exercise can become anaerobic. In general, aerobic exercise is performed for a long period and at moderate intensity. On the other hand, anaerobic exercise is performed for a short period and at high intensity.
There are many benefits of aerobic workouts, but this form of training is mainly performed to:
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines also suggest spreading out this exercise throughout the week . The guidelines state that being physically active makes people feel better, function better, sleep better, and have a lower risk of a large number of chronic diseases. Zumba classes typically last an hour and, as already said, combine high and low-intensity training. Taking 5 of these classes a week will help you meet your physical activity requirements to stay overall healthy.
All exercise programs can produce at least modest weight loss (around 4 ½ pounds) according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) . The ACSM recommends at least 225-420 minutes of physical activity for significant weight loss and 200-300 minutes to prevent weight gain. All in all, aerobic training can lead to weight loss, but only at extremely high exercise volumes and even more so when combined with calorie restriction or weight-loss diets.
But when it comes to Zumba specifically, not much research has been carried out to know just how and when Zumba is effective for weight loss. One of the best studies performed to date was led by Dr. Porcari and Mary Luettgen, M.S., researchers from the Uludag University’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science .
Porcari and his team recruited 19 healthy female volunteers, ages 18 to 22. All have a history of taking Zumba classes. The researchers then established the participants' baseline of fitness by measuring their heart rate (HR) and oxygen consumption (VO2) using a treadmill test. Then, each participant took part in a single Zumba session while wearing a heart-rate monitor. The classes varied in length from half an hour to 50 minutes.
The study found that a single Zumba fitness class burned about 9.5 calories per minutes, which amounts to 369 calories per hour. This definitely matches recommendations set forth by American Council on Exercise that claims you should aim to burn 300 to 400 calories per workout session for a minimum of three days a week for realistic weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week.
The study also found that the average HR was roughly 80 percent of the average predicted HRmax for the subjects. The average VO2max was 64 percent. Both measures are well within recommendations for improving cardio endurance.
Lead researcher Mary Luettgen commented that “If we look at the heart-rate monitor strips from the Zumba fitness session, they kind of look like interval workouts, going back and forth between high intensity and low intensity. Because of that, with Zumba you burn a lot of extra calories compared to a steady-state exercise like jogging .”
Even if your main goal is weight loss, taking part in Zumba classes can provide a host of other health benefits:
A stronger core
Zumba moves involve lots of mid-section twisting and hip thrusts. After all, the popular exercise program was inspired by Latin dances like salsa, mambo, rumba, and merengue. This features definitely contributes to a stronger core. A stronger core helps improve balance and stability while also helping tone the abs.
Improved cardiovascular health
A systematic review of the health benefits of Zumba found that the evidence was strongest when it comes to improving aerobic fitness . Having better aerobic fitness has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other risk factors for heart attack and stroke .
Since Zumba is mostly cardio, it can help you build endurance. With greater endurance, you'll be able to perform other forms of workout more successfully and can even up your Zumba class levels to take on more challenging classes. In addition, interval training has been shown to improve exercise tolerance related to endurance activity.
Getting a full-body workout
Zumba involves moving the entire body and flexing every muscle imaginable from head to toe. This makes Zumba a great full-body workout, but it definitely won't feel like it once you lose yourself to those Latin rhythms. If you go for Zumba Toning or Strong by Zumba, you'll also get to do strength training in addition to aerobic training in one class.
You don't have to be good at dancing to do Zumba. The goal is to try and imitate the instructor's movements and have fun with some good music playing in the background. Beginners usually like to stand in the back rows before they're confident they're gaining a better sense of rhythm. Besides, Zumba classes come in beginner to advanced levels, so don't let fear of failure prevent you from having fun. Also, the group aspect of Zumba can help with adherence to the program and can even make you work out harder and with greater vigor.
Aerobic workouts are well-known mood boosters. They release endorphins into your bloodstream that trigger a positive feeling in your body. But Zumba improves well-being for other reasons too. A study involving an 8-week Zumba intervention found that it improves well-being in healthy women by enhancing the perception of physical strength, muscular development, greater autonomy, and purpose in life . Again, the social aspects of Zumba definitely contribute to this as well.
A recent study found that regular practice of Zumba combined with Aquagym increased bone mineral density (BMD) in inactive middle-aged women . Zumba involves lots of jumping, which is an excellent form of workout for the bones. If combined with weight-bearing (Zumba with weights), you'll boost your bone strength further.
While not the best ever workout for weight loss, Zumba can still help you shed excess weight providing that it's done at high volumes and paired with a weight-loss diet. Zumba burns calories like most other forms of aerobic training. But it also helps push people to their limits by incorporating intervals of low and high intensity. Zumba also helps lift mood, enhance endurance, and protect heart health. Furthermore, the community aspect of Zumba can help you to gain a good network of fitness focused individuals which can help you adhere to an active lifestyle. If you have trouble sticking to a workout routine out of boredom and monotony, then definitely consider taking up Zumba classes.