Waltzing Your Way to a Stronger Heart
Why walk your way to better heart health when you can waltz?
That is the question posed by researchers who have found that waltzing improves heart function and quality of life among chronic heart failure patients.
The benefits appear at least as great, and sometimes greater, than the benefits gained from more traditional aerobic exercise, say researchers who presented their findings at the annual meeting for the American Heart Association.
"Why not?" says Dr. Louis E. Teichholz, division director of cardiology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. "The important thing about exercise is that you have aerobic exercise, and certainly this is good aerobic exercise, especially a waltz, where you're constantly moving."
Adds Dr. Robert Myerburg, a professor of medicine at the University of Miami: "For the person with heart disease, this might be a good way to do exercise to their level of tolerance, and it would be enjoyable for them.
“You could adjust the form of dance you're doing for the person who is mildly limited because of heart disease," says Dr. Myerburg.
Explaining the rationale for the research, lead author Dr. Romualdo Belardinelli says, "The problem is that sometimes the adherence of cardiac patients to exercise training programs is not very high, so we have to find something that may capture their interest.
"Waltz dancing improves functional capacity and quality of life for chronic heart failure patients without important side effects,” he says. “It may be considered in combination [with] or as an alternative to exercise training in these patients.”
In a previous study by the same researchers at Lancisi Heart Institute in Ancona, Italy, it was discovered that slow and fast waltzes were safe and effective forms of exercise for people who suffered from heart disease and previous heart attacks.
This time, the investigators basically repeated that first study in 110 individuals with chronic heart failure, 89 of them men, with an average age of 59.
The study participants were randomly assigned to do traditional aerobic exercise, including cycling and treadmills, three times a week for eight weeks, or to do a dance program that alternated slow waltzes (five minutes) and fast waltzes (three minutes) for a total of 21 minutes.
The dance sessions were also performed three times a week for eight weeks. A third group did not exercise and served as a control group.
Dancing improved both functional capacity of the heart and quality of life, especially in the area of emotions. There was no improvement at all in these areas among patients who did not exercise.
Cardiopulmonary fitness increased at similar rates in the routine aerobic group and in the dance group, with dancers experiencing slightly greater benefits.
Among the aerobic exercisers, oxygen consumption increased 16 percent, compared to 18 percent for the dancers.
Anaerobic threshold, or the point above which muscles start to tire, increased 20 percent among exercisers and 21 percent among dancers.
And, cardiocirculatory fitness increased 18 percent among the exercisers and 19 percent among the dancers.
Persons in the dancing group also saw improved elasticity in their arteries.
Finally, quality of life improved more in the dancing group than in the exercise group.
And dancing was safe; no one had to withdraw from the program.
"I don't think you could say this is better than good aerobic exercise," adds Dr. Teichholz. "The major difference is people were happier doing it.
"In people with heart failure and in normal people, we need to think that exercise can take various forms, and dancing certainly in this study is shown not to be deleterious and actually to be helpful," he says.
Always consult your physician for more information.
Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough oxygenated blood to meet the needs of the body's other organs.
The heart keeps pumping, but not as efficiently as a healthy heart.
Usually, the loss in the heart's pumping action is a symptom of an underlying heart problem.
Heart failure affects nearly 5 million US adults. It is on the rise with an estimated 400,000 to 700,000 new cases each year.
Heart failure may result from any/all of the following:
- heart valve disease - caused by past rheumatic fever or other infections
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- infections of the heart valves and/or heart muscle (i.e., endocarditis)
- previous heart attack(s) (myocardial infarction) - scar tissue from previous attacks may interfere with the heart muscle's ability to work normally
- coronary artery disease - narrowed arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle
- cardiomyopathy - or another primary disease of the heart muscle
- congenital heart disease/defects (present at birth)
- cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
- chronic lung disease and pulmonary embolism
- drug-induced heart failure
- excessive sodium intake
- hemorrhage and anemia
Heart failure interferes with the kidney's normal function of eliminating excess sodium and waste from the body.
In heart failure, the body retains more fluid - resulting in swelling of the ankles and legs.
Fluid also collects in the lungs - resulting in shortness of breath.
The following are the most common symptoms of heart failure:
- shortness of breath during rest, exercise, or lying flat
- weight gain
- visible swelling of the legs and ankles (due to a build-up of fluid), and, occasionally, the abdomen
- fatigue and weakness
- loss of appetite and nausea
- persistent cough - often produces mucus or blood-tinged sputum
- reduced urination
The severity of the condition and symptoms depends on how much of the heart's pumping capacity has been lost.
The symptoms of heart failure may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.