Zumba was born in Colombia in the 1990s, quite by accident. A fitness instructor forgot to bring his usual workout music to class, so he grabbed some Latin albums from his car, ditched the constraints of a traditional workout and danced just like he would at a club. His class followed along, sweating to the salsa and rumba beats, and loving it.
Since then, Zumba has pitched itself as more of a party than a workout. Indeed, some research suggests it may be the very best workout for people who hate to exercise.
A Zumba class is like any other instructor-led workout, but with simple dance moves heavy on the hips and step counts. Those moves add up to a decent sweat, says John Porcari, a professor of exercise and sport science at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. He and his colleagues analyzed a group of women who were Zumba regulars and found that a 40-minute class burns about 370 calories, a little more than nine calories per minute. That’s roughly the same amount you’d work off if you ran at a slow-ish pace or biked at 15 miles per hour for the same amount of time.
People worked hard in the class, too. “We found that they exercised at about 80% of maximum heart rate, and 60% V02 max,” which is a measure of oxygen used during exercise, he says. “We found it’s a pretty good workout—similar to moderately intense exercises like step aerobics or cardio kickboxing.”