Ballroom Dancers Waltz to Healthier Hearts Italian researchers have found that just 21 minutes of dancing, three times a week can match the cardiovascular benefits from working out on a treadmill or bicycle. The news is good for those who hate to work out -- but love to dance.
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Ballroom Dancers Waltz to Healthier Hearts

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Ballroom Dancers Waltz to Healthier Hearts

Ballroom Dancers Waltz to Healthier Hearts

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

See if you can get your insurance company to cover the cost of dancing lessons. It might seem like a stretch, but heart doctors have begun to find benefits in ballroom dancing.

NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY: There are a lot of ways to blow off steam after work. Some people choose the gym, some the corner bar, or there's always...

(Soundbite of music)

AUBREY: ...ballroom dancing.

Mr. CHRIS THOMPSON (Ballroom Dancing Instructor): One, two, do an open break. And slow, quick, quick...

AUBREY: Instructor Chris Thompson is teaching Bolero to a class of 20. His moves appear effortless. But new research suggests ballroom dancing can be serious exercise leading to the same powerful heart benefits you get from treadmill or bicycle workouts.

Mr. THOMPSON: Yes, I do believe it, because it's not only aerobic but it's isometric. One of the most important things that we stress is posture. Posture. Posture. Posture. Using the arms...

AUBREY: And legs and torso. Setting the foundation of the elaborate moves and hours of dancing that follow. Thompson says, in this setting, stress melts away.

Mr. THOMPSON: You cannot maintain a clinch when your shoulders are pressed down, your arms are extended. So, it's a very freeing open feeling. It kind of makes you breathe a little deeper. It gets the blood flowing.

AUBREY: Which make the blood vessels more elastic and healthy. In a study from Italy, doctors used ballroom dance as a form of cardiac rehab for heart attack patients. One group was assigned to waltzing; others jogged or walked on a treadmill.

It turns out that just 21 minutes of dancing three times per week is enough to significantly improve cardiovascular function. The finding is music to the ears of ballroom fanatic Bob Silva(ph).

Mr. BOB SILVA: I don't like to exercise. I absolutely hate to exercise. But if I'm dancing, I don't care how tired I am. I hear the music, I look at the woman and I want to dance more. So I can just push myself, push myself, push myself and feel absolutely wonderful.

AUBREY: Sixty-year-old Silva took his first lesson here at the Dance Factory in Arlington, Virginia two years ago. His wife signed him up for lessons and Silva says he had no idea dancing would make him feel so much better. Back then, he says, he was taking two blood pressure medications.

Mr. SILVA: With the dancing, I've dropped the one medication completely and the other is cut in half. So, it's way down from where it's been.

AUBREY: Are you surprised that this happened just on account of the dancing?

Mr. SILVA: No. Well, my waves dropped because I dance a lot. I dance four to six nights a week.

AUBREY: Which is enough to burn off a few thousand extra calories and take off pounds, Silva says, he was never able to lose before. It's inspiration to one of his younger dance partners, Anne Marie Land(ph), who also took up dancing two years ago.

Ms. ANNE MARIE LAND (Lawyer): I didn't have any physical endurance. I could barely make it through one song. And if I couldn't make it through a song, I would just apologize to my partner and I'd sit down and I'd wait until I could get up again.

AUBREY: Land is a 36-year-old lawyer who spends most days sitting at her desk, poring over documents. She says her lifestyle was completely sedentary until she started spending evenings here.

Ms. LAND: If I can find partners, I'll be dancing straight through for half hour to one hour. And they're usually looking at me, as I'm fair-skinned, you know? I'll blush pretty easily and I'll get flushed and they'll say, are you okay? I'm great. Keep going. Let's keep going.

AUBREY: It's that much fun, she says, even if all her moves aren't quite perfect.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. THOMPSON: Let's try that again with feeling.

Ms. LAND: I hope (unintelligible).

AUBREY: Land says the Dance Studio has almost become a second home.

Ms. LAND: You know, I just - I would not - I can't believe that I fell into this just by accident. And it completely changed my life.

AUBREY: That's a big statement.

Ms. LAND: I was heading towards a lot of weight related health complications and I've turned that around.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. THOMPSON: Now you're ready. Half a basic.

AUBREY: Not everyone who tries ballroom dancing falls in love with it. But those who do - find exercise becomes a form of play.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.

Mr. THOMPSON: Quick. Quick. Getting swift. Holding on, quick, quick, slow.

INSKEEP: If you have questions on weight-loss, migraines, or back pain, you can find answers from experts at our Web site, npr.org/yourhealth.

(Soundbite of music)

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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