people dancing at a concert

Dancing in the dark could have benefits for health and wellbeing

26 July 2019
Our researchers partnered with No Lights, No Lycra to explore who regularly attends their nationwide free-form dance events held in the dark, including their motivations and self-reported health benefits.

The researchers from the University's Faculty of Medicine and Health found the overwhelming majority of participants in No Lights, No Lycra were women in their mid to late 30s, who didn’t meet physical activity guidelines.

“The latest national statistics tell us that more than one in two Australians do not get enough physical activity for health, and women are less active than men,” said lead author, PhD candidate Bridget Foley.

“It’s important to look at innovative ways to get more people more active, and understand what it is about unconventional sport and recreational activities which get people, especially women, to change their inactive lifestyles.

“No Lights, No Lycra shows how dance can be modified in a real world setting to engage women who aren’t regular gym-goers and don’t participate in sport regularly.”
Bridget Foley, PhD candidate in the Prevention Research Collaboration, School of Public Health

The peer-reviewed study, published today in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, surveyed 1190 participants across 52 No Lights, No Lycra locations over a one week period in 2018.  

Researchers found the top reasons for attending were to “have fun,” “improve physical health and fitness” and “improve mental health and wellbeing.”

When asked about the benefits of attending, 95 percent of participants agreed it improved their physical health and 97 percent agreed it improved their mental health.

Ms Foley said this is significant considering half of those surveyed reported being diagnosed with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions.

“Women’s education, work, home life and caring responsibilities have a huge impact on their participation in physical activity in middle age,” said Ms Foley.

“The latest research in this area tells us that programs which are safe, flexible and enjoyable – like No Lights, No Lycra – are the most likely to attract these women and encourage physical activity.”

“Dance is particularly interesting as while we know participation is high in young girls, they often stop participating in dance and other physical activity as they get older due to cost, time commitment, focus on technique, mirrors, tight-fitting clothes and lack of enjoyment.”

Summary of findings

  • 88 percent of participants did not achieve recommended 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity five days a week
  • No Lights, No Lycra made up 23 percent of the participants’ overall physical activity
  • 50 percent of the participants reported a medically diagnosed mental health condition
  • 20 percent reported a chronic physical health condition
  • 95 percent reported participation improved their physical health
  • 97 percent reported participation improved their mental health

Senior author Dr Lindsey Reece of the Prevention Research Collaboration in the School of Public Health and Charles Perkins Centre said more needs to done to encourage sport and physical activity opportunities that motivate and engage inactive Australians.

“Focusing on supporting people to be active in everyday life, in ways they enjoy is critical if we are to help build a healthy and active community. If you enjoy something, you are more likely to keep doing it,” said Dr Reece.

The research team is also exploring the effectiveness of community initiatives such as parkrun which offers free weekly 5km events where people can participate at their own level, with a focus on health and enjoyment.

Declaration: The research was wholly funded by the University of Sydney. Authors independently designed the research methods, partnering with No Lights, No Lycra for participant recruitment and data collection.

Photo credit: Tom Ross, image provided by No Lights No Lycra

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