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Dancing Your Way to a Healthy Heart

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Heart Disease related image Photo: Getty Images

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m a Dancing With the Stars junkie. Maybe it’s the grace and beauty of the dancers, or perhaps the way they seem to become one with the music – my husband says it’s the costumes – but I simply love to take a few minutes out of my week to indulge myself in the movement and music. That hour is my escape where I dance vicariously though the contestants and pretend that I too have beautiful, long – and thin – legs and am able to move with as much grace and fluidity as the contestants. I’ve also watched with envy at the transformation of several of the more “matronly” contestants as the pounds melt off and they morph into healthy, glowing, physically fit competitors.

Lack of physical activity and obesity are both risk factors for heart disease and high blood pressure. Obviously, the contestants on Dancing With the Stars are working out at a level – with dramatic results - which most of us can’t commit to on a day to day level. But, if you’re looking for a fun, aerobic workout, that’s certain to feed your soul - all while lowering blood pressure, reducing your waist, increasing your stamina and overall fitness - then you need look no further than dance.

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), there are four types of physical activity – aerobic activity, strengthening exercises for bone and for muscle, and stretching. If you’re concerned about your heart health, then aerobic activities such as dancing should be high on your list of preferred fitness routines. Consistent aerobic exercise is good for your heart because it causes your heart and lungs to work harder, builds stamina, increases endurance and engages large muscle groups in movement. Aerobic exercise such as dancing also increases the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, resulting in higher blood oxygen levels. It’s also known to reduce your risk of heart or coronary artery disease (CAD), along with helping to manage several of the risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, obesity, and cholesterol levels. (NHLBI 1.)

One 2006 Italian study found that dancing was more beneficial to heart patients than other forms of exercise. In this study, researchers followed 110 patients diagnosed with heart failure. As a part of their heart rehabilitation, patients waltzed their way to a healthier, stronger heart. In this study, patients were divided into three groups: no exercise, traditional exercise such as cycling, and the waltzing group. At the end of the study, the cardiopulmonary fitness results in the group that danced were comparable to those engaging in traditional fitness activities. According to Dr. Romualdo Belardinelli, exercise is a key element in cardiac recovery but most patients – 70 percent - do not stick with exercise programs. Dancing is a fun and enjoyable way to keep heart patients interested in exercising. Belardinelli is the director of cardiac rehabilitation at Lancisi Heart Institute in Ancona, Italy. (Altaffer 1.)

If you’re ready to get up and star in your own dance of life, grab your partner and head for the dance floor. Whether it’s Irish step dance, salsa, West Coast Swing, tap, ballet, ballroom dancing, or the waltz, dancing is one form of aerobic exercise that is certain to put a smile on your face while improving your heart health and general fitness.

Let’s Dance to Health: Getting Motivated, 14 Feb 2005, AARP, http://www.aarp.org/health/fitness/info-2005/dance_to_health.html
Physical Activity and Your Heart, National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/phys/phys_benefits.html
Mary Altaffer, Heart attack patients waltz to recovery, Experiment finds dancing helps hearts heal faster, 12 Nov 2006, MSNBC.com, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15687738/ns/health-heart_health/t/heart-attack-patients-waltz-recovery/

Reviewed May 18, 2011

Edited by Alison Stanton

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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