Nov. 13, 2006 (Chicago) -- For someone with mild to moderate heart failure, dancing lessons may be the perfect gift this holiday season.
In a new study, people with heart failure who took up waltzing breathed better, exercised longer, and generally felt better.
Dancing boosted heart health just as much as exercise, says researcher Romualdo Belardinelli, MD, a professor of cardiology at Università Politecnica delle Marche School of Medicine and director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at Lancisi Heart Institute in Ancona, Italy.
Dancing really had the edge in helping people's sense of well-being, he tells WebMD.
The study was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2006.
Exercise and Live Longer
"But long-term adherence to exercise programs is not very high, with as many as 70% of patients dropping out over time," he says. "We have to find new ways to reach them."
Belardinelli says the researchers chose the waltz because of its universal appeal. But other slow dances should work as well, he says.
The study included 89 men and 21 women with mild to moderate heart failure.
Heart failure happens when the heart's pumping action weakens. This causes fluid to build up in your lungs and other body tissues. People with mild to moderate heart failure can walk around, and even go up and down stairs, yet they run out of breath much sooner and can't exercise as long as healthy people.
Forty-four men and women participated in a supervised exercise program consisting of cycling and walking on a treadmill three times a week for eight weeks. Another 44 people danced, alternating between slow five-minute waltzes and fast three-minute waltzes for 21 minutes, three times a week for eight weeks. The rest of the participants did not exercise.
Dancers Utilize Oxygen More Efficiently
The researchers showed that both exercise and waltzing boosted heart health and improved breathing.
"A well-trained athlete utilizes oxygen very efficiently, so his muscles don't demand as much oxygen-containing blood per minute. This is what allows him or her to exercise harder and further than the average person," says Elliott M. Antman, MD, a heart specialist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved with the study.
"Similarly, dancing and exercise both helped heart failure patients to utilize their oxygen more efficiently, thereby allowing them to exercise more without running out of breath," says Antman, who is also an AHA spokesman.
Specifically, an 18% improvement in oxygen use was seen among the dancers and a 16% improvement was seen in the exercise group. These measurements were unchanged in the group that did not exercise.
Quality of life, as measured by the survey, improved more among the dancers.
"Dancing appears to be an attractive and fun way for heart failure patients to get their exercise," says Antman. "I highly recommend it."
American Heart Association former President Robert O. Bonow, MD, chief of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, says part of dancing's benefits may come from the fact that people are interacting socially as opposed to walking on a treadmill by themselves.