SUNDAY, Nov. 12, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Why walk your way to better heart health when you can waltz?
That's the question posed by Italian researchers who've 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.
"Why not?" said Dr. Louis E. Teichholz, division director of cardiology and chief of complementary medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center, in Hackensack, N.J. "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."
Added Dr. Robert Myerburg, a professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine: "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."
The Italian researchers presented their findings Sunday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting, in Chicago.
Explaining the rationale for the research, lead study author Dr. Romualdo Belardinelli told a Sunday AHA news conference, "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. It may be considered in combination or as an alternative to exercise training in these patients," added Belardinelli, the director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at Lancisi Heart Institute in Ancona, Italy
In a previous study, the same researchers had found 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.
People 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," Teichholz said. "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."
The American Heart Association has more on exercise and heart health.