Zumba Fitness

People dancing in a fitness class

Dance has been used as a physical expression of emotions, celebration, ceremony, worship, and entertainment for centuries. The Oxford Dictionary defines dance as moving rhythmically to music, usually following a specific sequence of steps. Ballet, contemporary, tap, jazz, hip-hop, folk, and step dancing are popular forms of dance.

Research shows that dance as an exercise format, or dance fitness, not only combines cardiovascular benefits of movements set to music but also offers the social aspect of a group setting, which may promote longer-term adherence to exercise. [1]

Here we specifically explore Zumba Fitness®, a popular program worldwide that involves aerobic exercise using Latin-inspired dance themes and music. The choreography is less formal than in traditional dance classes and encourages the feel of a “dance party.” [2] Zumba has been found to boost intrinsic motivation, which is defined as engaging in an activity because of the innate pleasure it brings. [3]


Exercise of any type carries the risk of injury. Zumba requires a level of coordination to perform rhythmic Latin dance-inspired movements. It is usually fast-paced, including twisting motions at the hip, knee, and ankle. Proper body alignment can be harder to control when the music tempo is fast and routines move quickly. Jumps or hops can lead to lower back pain in less-conditioned participants. If a participant focuses too much on following the instructor and keeping up with their classmates rather than paying attention to their own physical limitations, injuries can occur.

As with other types of aerobic exercise, research has been published on Zumba-related injuries, with the most frequently injured sites being knees, ankles, and shoulders. [4] It appears that a higher frequency of weekly classes increases the risk of injuries more than age or exercise experience. This finding is consistent with another study that found that Zumba instructors were seven times more likely to suffer injury than class participants, likely due to their high total volume of moderate-to-vigorous weekly activity. [5]

Tips to prevent injury:

  • Check with your doctor. Discuss if a dance fitness class like Zumba is safe with your medical conditions.
  • Introduce yourself to the instructor. Inform the instructor if you are brand new to the format, if you have sensitive areas of the body, or are recovering from an injury. An experienced instructor will monitor you throughout the class and offer modifications for complex movements.
  • Wear proper dance fitness shoes. Good arch support with a flexible sole supports the foot while allowing it to pivot across the floor using multidirectional movements. Most running shoes are not a good choice because they grip the floor and promote forward motion, whereas Zumba includes more lateral (side-to-side) movements. A simple walking or tennis shoe may be a good option to support commonly used movements.
  • Choose a class that takes place in a fitness facility or dance studio. These locations are more likely to have proper flooring, such as hardwood floors with rubber underlay that support pivoting of the feet while helping to absorb shock. Zumba classes in a community center or church may use rooms with concrete or carpeted floors that can lead to twisted ankles and knee strain, regardless if wearing the proper shoes.
  • Warm-up before class. Not all Zumba classes will provide an adequate warm-up session, so spend 10-15 minutes before class walking on a treadmill or marching in place to increase blood flow and oxygen to your muscles. This reduces stress on the body when you start dancing.
  • Modify movements. If a movement looks too vigorous or extreme, don’t hesitate to substitute a different movement that is more comfortable. You may try marching or doing step-touches until the routine moves on to the next movement.
  • If you are new, stand in the back. It is often less crowded and allows you to experience the class at your own pace, modify movements, and feel less pressure to keep up with everyone else.

Zumba and Health

Dance fitness has been ranked the second most popular leisure-time physical activity after walking among women ages 25 to 75 years, and an activity recommended in the Global Action Plan On Physical Activity 2018–2030 established by WHO. [6] There is research on Zumba to reduce cardiovascular risk, but many studies are limited by small sample sizes, shorter durations of 8-12 weeks, and lack of control groups. [7,8] The intensity of Zumba enters the moderate aerobic zone, but adding jumping and faster-paced music increases intensity. There appears to be a wide range in intensity levels of Zumba classes depending upon the choreography and enthusiasm of the instructor, which has likely contributed to variability in Zumba research. [2]

Zumba Gold® is an offshoot of Zumba that is adapted for older adults to be lower in intensity with movements that focus on balance, range of motion, and coordination. Research has been published on its safety, high rates of compliance by participants, and intrinsic motivation to exercise in clinical populations such as hemodialysis patients and those with Parkinson’s disease. [20,21]

Bottom Line

Zumba Fitness is a dance-based aerobic exercise class that is popular, especially among women, of all ages and body sizes. It offers a range of benefits including improving aerobic fitness, body composition, and balance. Although the intensity of an average Zumba class is moderate to vigorous, modifications can be made to meet the specific needs of individuals. Zumba Gold is a lower-intensity format targeting older adults and those with increased physical limitations that has been found to be generally safe and to stimulate intrinsic motivation to exercise. The group setting of Zumba classes can provide socialization and additional mental health benefits. As with any exercise format, there is risk of injury so it is important to discuss the feasibility of Zumba with your doctor before beginning a program.


Last reviewed October 2023

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