Waltzing is the way to mend a broken heart!

Italian researchers have found that in patients recovering from heart attacks dancing the waltz was as effective as routine training programs for improving heart health.

Dancing, say the researchers, proved to be just as effective as bicycle and treadmill training for improving exercise capacity.

In a study of 110 heart failure patients, the dancers also reported slightly more improvement in sleep, mood, and the ability to do hobbies, do housework and have sex, than the others.

Dr. Romualdo Belardinelli, director of cardiac rehabilitation at Lancisi Heart Institute in Ancona, Italy, and the study author, says exercise is crucial after people suffer heart problems, but getting people to stay with programs is tough, and as many as 70 percent drop out of traditional programs.

He says some form of exercise needs to be found that captures the patients' interest, and they chose waltzing because it is "internationally known'' and is aerobic.

The same research team had previously shown that waltzing could help heart attack sufferers regain strength.

The new study involved 89 men and 11 women, average age 59, with heart failure, which 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 and not enjoyable.

Researchers assigned 44 patients to a supervised exercise training program of cycling and treadmill work three times a week for eight weeks, while 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 and served as a control group.

Heart rates were checked during both activities, and more extensive exercise tests were done at the start and end of the study, and artery imaging examinations 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 and 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.

The imaging showed that dancers' arteries were more able to dilate and expand in response to exercise than non-exercisers.

Belardinelli says some of the benefit may be that dancers had a partner and social companion rather than cycling or walking on a treadmill alone, and the program is more effective because it is fun.

Also dancing was safe and no one had to withdraw from the program.

Belardinelli presented the results of his study at an American Heart Association meeting in Chicago.

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