Hula Dancing Helped Native Hawaiians Lower Their Blood Pressure

Traditional hula dancing has been found to help lower blood pressure in a study involving Native Hawaiians.

Researchers recruited 250 Native Hawaiians whose blood pressure was above the normal range of below 120/80 mmHg, despite receiving treatment. The average age of the participants was 58 years old and 80 percent were women.

The participants learned about high blood pressure in three hour-long lessons, covering topics including diet, exercise, and how medication can treat the condition. Researchers assigned one half of the group a regime involving hula dancing, while the others acted as the control group and weren't given further guidance. Both groups carried on taking medicine as normal.

The volunteers had a high blood pressure score of at least 140/90 mmHg, considered to be in the Stage 2 category, or 130/80 mmHg with diabetes, putting them at risk of complications from the condition.

For a period of three months, the hula group went to hour-long lessons twice a week. They then took one lesson a month for a further three months and were told to practice at home. The participants then took part in group activities which revisited what they had learned in the lessons.

At the end of the six months, the group who learned hula dancing were more likely to have their blood pressure lower to 130/80 mmHg, the threshold for Stage 1 high blood pressure. 129/80 mmHg is considered in the higher range of normal, for instance. Lowering blood pressure can cut the risk of suffering a heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.

High blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors of conditions such as heart failure, and Native Hawaiians are 70 percent more likely to die from heart disease than whites in the state, and four times more likely to die from stroke.

The preliminary findings were presented at the American Heart Association's Hypertension 2019 Scientific Sessions, taking place September 5 to 8, and have therefore not yet been peer-reviewed.

The team were inspired to carry out the study after their previous research showed native Hawaiians are less likely to follow typical lifestyle plans designed to lower blood pressure as interventions can be expensive and diets tough to stick to over long periods of time.

In the new study, the participants' blood pressure stayed at the lower level six months after they stopped attending hula lessons. Over 80 percent stuck with the program for six months and 77 percent for 12 months.

Professor Keawe'aimoku Kaholokula, who lead the study for the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in Honolulu, commented in a statement: "The participants said the hula was fun and helped meet their spiritual and cultural needs."

"We found that Native Hawaiians want group-based and culturally relevant lifestyle interventions that resonate with their cultural values and perspectives," he said.

"We created an intervention based on hula, the traditional dance of Native Hawaiians, which can be performed at different levels of intensity by men and women of all ages and is practiced as a form of cultural and creative expression."

Kaholokula said the findings could relate to similar indigenous groups, such as American Indians, Alaska Natives, First Nation People in Canada, Maori in New Zealand, and the Aboriginals of Australia.

"Other similar cultural activities, especially those that include physical activity that meets national guidelines, and social and cultural activities that engage and empower people to make behavioral changes, could be used in a similar fashion in other indigenous groups," he said.

Mapuana de Silva, an expert on hula who worked as a consultant on the study, said: "While the physical benefits of dancing hula are clear, other positive impacts include creating family-like social support and increasing self-confidence and acceptance of others.

"This all comes from the essential cultural value of aloha which is fundamental to hula," she said.

Dr. David Goff, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, an arm of the part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the study, commented: "These results reinforce the idea that for most people, the best physical activity for your health is one that makes you breathe a little faster and gets your heart beating a little faster.

"Whether that's dancing, biking, swimming, surfing, or hiking, the key is to move more and more often. Being active with friends and family can help sustain the healthy fun over time."

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Researchers tested whether hula dancing could improve a person's health. This stock image shows a Hawaiian woman dancing on the beach in Kauai. Getty