Yes, Zumba does burn the fats

SINGAPORE - Over a decade after its debut in 2001, Zumba has definitely arrived, as it bills itself as the largest branded fitness programme in the world, with more than 14 million weekly participants in more than 140,000 locations, across more than 150 countries.

This popular group-exercise class follows the formula made popular during the dance aerobics craze of the 1980s - combining high-energy choreography with catchy music all in the name of fitness, reported The Montreal Gazette.

Whether it's the music, the Latin-inspired dance moves or the party atmosphere that permeates the class, Zumba is one of the most popular group-exercise classes on fitness-studio schedules.

But while there's no denying that it hits the mark in terms of fun, is there enough of a workout in there to call it fitness? Or are millions of Zumba fanatics deluding themselves into thinking that fitness can indeed be fun?

The American Council on Exercise asked its workout watchdog, Mr John Porcari from the department of exercise science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, to evaluate just how much of a workout Zumba lovers get in an average 60-minute class.

Mr Porcari and his research team collected fitness measurements from 19 women before sending them out to a variety of Zumba classes, all taught by the same instructor. All were wearing a heart-rate monitor designed to quantify the heart's response to the workout.

The average heart rate among the women was 154 beats per minute, which is approximately 80 per cent of the average maximum heart rate of the college-age group. This more than qualifies Zumba as an effective workout.

"If we look at the heart-rate monitor strips from the Zumba session, they kind of look like interval workouts, going back and forth between high intensity and low intensity," said lead researcher Mary Luettgen.

"Because of that, with Zumba you burn a lot of extra calories, compared to a steady-state exercise like jogging."

As for the average calorie burn, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse team estimates Zumba participants burn 369 calories per class.

"The surprising thing is that it doesn't matter what fitness level you're at - our research shows that with Zumba everyone is working out at the zone that's recommended for improving cardio health," Ms Luettgen said.

"Both fit people and less-fit people are going to get an equally good workout."

The key for instructors is to strike a balance between dance and aerobics. Classes with complicated choreography or too much dance may fail to keep the heart rate elevated high enough or long enough to provide an exercise effect.

So while Zumba may have the potential to offer a good workout, with so many instructors out there teaching their own style, there's no guarantee that every Zumba class will achieve the same results as those found by the research team from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

But with the right instructor, not only will Zumba lead to improved fitness, it also has the potential to keep enthusiasm for exercise from waning.

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