have come up with a novel way for cardiac
rehabilitation patients to exercise their
damaged hearts without having to squeeze
into spandex or gyrate in a gym: waltzing.
The dance proved to be just as effective
as bicycle and treadmill training for
improving exercise capacity in a study
of 110 heart failure patients. Dancers
also reported slightly more improvement
in sleep, mood, and the ability to do
hobbies, do housework and have sex than
"This may be a more effective way of
getting people to exercise, and may be
more fun than running on a treadmill,"
said Dr. Robert Bonow, cardiology chief
at Northwestern University School of Medicine.
"Maybe we should try that here. I'm not
sure we can get Americans to waltz, but
they can certainly dance."
Exercise is crucial after people suffer
heart problems, but getting people to
stick with it is tough. As many as 70
percent drop out of traditional programs,
said Dr. Romualdo Belardinelli, director
of cardiac rehabilitation at Lancisi Heart
Institute in Ancona, Italy.
"We have to find something that may capture
the patients' interest," he said Sunday
at an American Heart
Association meeting in Chicago
where he presented results of his study.
They chose waltzing because it is "internationally
known" and is quite aerobic, as the study
ultimately verified, he said.
The same researchers previously showed
that waltzing could help heart attack
sufferers regain strength. The new study
involved 89 men and 11 women, average
age 59, with heart failure. The condition
occurs when weakened hearts can no longer
pump blood effectively, making simple
activities like climbing stairs and taking
the dog for a walk tough to do, let alone
Researchers assigned 44 patients to a
supervised exercise training program of
cycling and treadmill work three times
a week for eight weeks. Another group
of 44 took dance classes in the hospital
gym, alternating between slow and fast
waltzes for 21 minutes, three times a
week for eight weeks. A third group of
22 patients had no exercise.
Heart rates were checked during both
activities, more extensive exercise tests
were done at the start and end of the
study, and artery imaging exams were performed.
Cardiopulmonary fitness increased at
similar rates among those who danced or
exercised and did not change in those
who did neither.
Oxygen uptake increased 16 percent among
exercisers and 18 percent among dancers.
The anaerobic threshold the point
where muscles fatigue rose 20 percent
among exercisers and 21 percent among
dancers. Other measures, including a general
index of fitness, were comparable.
Imaging showed that dancers' arteries
were more able to dilate and expand in
response to exercise than non-exercisers.
Part of the benefit may be that dancers
had a partner and social companion rather
than cycling or walking on a treadmill
alone, doctors said.
"This type of program is more effective,"
Belardinelli said, "because it is fun."