Waltz your way to a healthier heart


Written on Friday, November 17, 2006 by Gemini

Johann Strauss Jr died in 1899 at age 73 of pneumonia, not a heart attack, and that may be due to his “Blue Danube Waltz” and his many other heart-healthy waltzes.

Did that make Strauss the Richard Simmons of the 19th century? Well, maybe not, but Italian researchers have come up with a novel way for cardiac rehabilitation patients to exercise 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 the others.

“This may be a more effective way of getting people to exercise, and may be more fun than running on a treadmill,” said Robert Bonow, cardiology chief at Northwestern University School of Medicine. “Maybe we should try 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% drop out of traditional programmes, said 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 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.

Even 30 minutes delay can hike death risk by 42%
Hundreds of hospitals around the country are joining the most ambitious project ever undertaken to give faster emergency room care to people suffering major heart attacks. Fewer than one-third of such patients now get their blocked arteries reopened within 90 minutes of arrival, as guidelines recommend. The risk of dying goes up 42% if care is delayed even half an hour longer.

“There’s a very, very large opportunity here to improve patient care,” said John Brush, heart specialist who helped the American College of Cardiology design the new project. Major medical groups and government agencies have endorsed the project, including the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, whose director, Elizabeth Nabel, called it the biggest heart care initiative since paramedics were trained to do CPR.

It targets heart attacks caused by a total or near-total blockage of a major artery that prevents enough oxygen from reaching the heart tissue. About a third of the 10 million worldwide are of this type. The preferred remedy is angioplasty, in which doctors snake a tube through a blood vessel in the groin to the blockage. A tiny balloon is inflated to flatten the crud, and a mesh scaffold called a stent usually is placed to prop the artery open.

Guidelines have long called for a “doorto-balloon” time of 90 minutes, “but we just haven’t engineered our ERs to cut out some of these steps that aren’t needed” and cause delays, Nabel said.

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