Zumba beats kickboxing, aerobics and Pilates for burning calories, study finds

Beth Nunez leads a Zumba class on Oct. 27, 2010, at the Sheinberg Family YMCA of Weston, Fla.
Walter Michot | Miami Herald, MCT
Beth Nunez leads a Zumba class on Oct. 27, 2010, at the Sheinberg Family YMCA of Weston, Fla.
Posted Aug. 23, 2012, at 4:46 p.m.

Zumba burns more calories per minute than power yoga, cardio kickboxing, step aerobics and even advanced Pilates group classes, a study by the department of exercise and sport science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse found.

Zumba classes are an efficient and effective way to lose weight due to the high number of calories burned and cardiovascular intensity, the researchers found.

The study was commissioned by the American Council on Exercise and sought to determine the average exercise intensity and energy expenditure of participants in a typical Zumba class.

The group dance-fitness program, which reports 12 million class participants in 110,000 locations across 125 countries, was identified as one of the most popular workout programs in ACE’s 2012 Fitness Trends to Watch.

Exercise physiologists began the study using a test group of 19 healthy females ranging in age from 18 to 22, all of whom had prior experience in a Zumba class. To establish a baseline of fitness, study subjects each performed a treadmill test to measure their heart rate and oxygen consumption. They then completed a single Zumba class, all taught by the same instructor, while wearing a heart-rate monitor.

All participants reached a heart rate maximum of 80 percent — an average of 154 beats per minute — which is well within industry guidelines suggested to improve cardiovascular fitness. Class participants also burned an average of 9.5 calories per minute.

That’s more calories per minute than power yoga, cardio kickboxing, step aerobics and even advanced Pilates group classes, which were all previously tested by University of Wisconsin La-Crosse researchers.

“Just like the participants, we were surprised at how effective Zumba is in terms of its calorie-burning potential,” said ACE Chief Science Officer Dr. Cedric Bryant. “Zumba has built an entire culture around having fun and engaging participants in this party-like atmosphere, but until now, little research has been conducted to test its effectiveness.”

Aside from its calorie-burning potential, Bryant said, Zumba is such a fun and engaging activity that many participants don’t even realize they’re expending a high amount of energy.

“The number one reason people give for not engaging in physical activity on a regular basis is the perceived lack of time,” Bryant said. “I would argue that we find time to do things that we deem fun and engaging.”

“Our study concludes that Zumba classes can be a high-intensity cardiovascular workout for many, but we also want to note the importance of instructor expertise to ensure maximum safety for participants,” Bryant said.

American Council on Exercise is the world’s largest nonprofit fitness certification organization dedicated to providing education that helps individuals live their most fit lives.

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