Is Zumba the Best Workout for People with Arthritis?

Work Out at Your Own Pace

Zumba class
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Zumba is a fitness program inspired by Latin dance moves and other easy-to-follow dance steps. Zumba training alternates fast and slow rhythms, as well as resistance training. It's referred to as a "fitness party." The good news is that you get to Zumba at your own pace!

The History of Zumba

Zumba, as we know it today, started in 2001. But its true origin dates back to the mid 1990s. Alberto "Beto" Perez was a fitness instructor in Colombia.

One particular day, he rushed off to teach an aerobics class but left behind his traditional aerobics music. He was forced to make do with the salsa and merengue tapes he was carrying in his backpack. Just that simply, a type of dance-fitness was born, based on allowing the music to move you.

In 2001, Beto took his dance-fitness program to Miami, Fla., where he ended up meeting two other entrepreneurs who coincidentally were also from Colombia. The three men joined forces and started their business venture, called Zumba Fitness. They had a vision for making the whole world aware of Zumba fitness. They trademarked "Zumba" and created DVDs and infomercials. As interest in Zumba grew, the need for classes and instructors became obvious.

In 2005, Zumba Fitness branched off into a Zumba Academy, which focused on licensing Zumba instructors and teaching classes. There was more growth over the years and the company fed the demand with Zumbawear, CDs, and the Zumba Fitness Total Body Transformation System — a home fitness DVD series released in 2008.

In 2010, a Zumba video game was released for the three main gaming systems — Wii, Xbox, and Playstation 3.

Zumba Classes

There are six Zumba classes available. It's important for you to start with the basics and find which of the six classes suits you. Once you choose the most appropriate Zumba setting for you, expect to emerge energized and as dependent on Zumba as you are on the air you breathe.

That's exactly how enthusiastic Zumba participants are about their fitness program.

The six options for Zumba include:

Zumba - Combines Latin dance moves with fitness moves. It's the original Zumba Fitness Party.

Zumba Gold - Designed for the active, older participant and those new to fitness programs. The pace and movements are modified, and the focus is on friendly fun.

Zumba Toning - Designed for those interested in body sculpting. Incorporates body-sculpting exercise with high energy cardio workout and Latin Zumba moves.

Aqua Zumba - The ultimate Zumba pool party. This is Zumba movements combined with traditional aqua exercise. May be a great choice for people with arthritis, since water exercise is more kind to the joints.

Zumbatomic - Designed for kids age 4 through 12. This program incorporates the music kids love and fitness goals appropriate for kids.

Zumba in the Circuit - 30 minutes of energized, Latin-inspired dance fitness combined with circuit training (a series of strength exercises performed at timed intervals). Seems like quite the one-two punch, but this can be adapted to all fitness levels.

Arthritis Patient Becomes Aqua Zumba Instructor

If you think Zumba sounds too good to be true — an extremely popular fitness program that can be done at your own pace — consider what Mary Clarkson Turek (one of our Verywell readers) said about Zumba.

How did you become interested in Zumba?

I started taking Basic Zumba classes about 1 1/2 years ago. After having back surgery and still having issues with my leg, I wasn't sure that I would be able to do it. I worked out at the YMCA and across the hall was the Zumba class where there was loud music, hollering, and they were having a blast. I started going over and watching, and it looked like so much fun. I wanted to do it so badly. I heard the instructor say, "You can't Zumba wrong. Take it at your own pace." That was music to my ears, and I decided I was going to try it.

So, my first class I was scared to death, but I wanted to be where I could see the instructors feet to pick up the moves. That meant being close to the front of the class (yikes)! Just like everything else it takes a while to pick up on things, but it didn't matter — everyone starts somewhere.

How has Zumba affected your arthritis?

My back did hurt for a while and I would come home and put moist heat on but I wasn't going to let that stop me. The more I did Zumba, the looser my body became. My doctor told me I would never be able to bend over or twist at the waist. I'm not advocating that you ignore your doctor's advice, but I can now just about touch my toes (which I know I never will) and I can twist at the waist. I do have a new surgeon who knows that I do Zumba and he is all for it, land or water. I have lost 50 lbs. too and I'm hoping to lose more.

In August 2010, Zumba developed Aqua Zumba. Whoever thought they would be doing belly dancing or Latin dance in the water? I decided to become an instructor for the water. I have been teaching it since November. It's something you can learn at your own pace, not as hard on your joints, and we all know that water is excellent for people with arthritis.

What impact has Zumba had on your quality of life?

Zumba has changed my life! I went from sitting around, not doing much of anything, to living my life again and having a good time. By the way, I'm in my upper 50s and I know I will need another back surgery in the future, but as long as I can keep moving like I am, that surgery is going to be on hold until I can't shake, laugh, and holler anymore.

The Bottom Line

There is no denying that Zumba has become hugely popular and it is a fun way to work out. But the principles of exercising with arthritis still apply. If a particular movement increases your pain level, modify that movement. Be mindful of proper techniques when incorporating resistance. Be fit, have fun, but remember to be gentle with arthritic joints.


About Zumba Fitness. Accessed 01/10/16.

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