HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii research presented to a convention of the American Psychological Association claims that hula is good for the heart and soul.
According to research by the University of Hawaii medical school and the Queen's Medical Center, learning hula dancing can lower blood pressure and help rehabilitate patients after heart attacks or cardiac surgery.
The research attempted to evaluate how hula can help improve health among Native Hawaiians, whose death rate from heart disease is roughly twice that of the general population in the state, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Friday.
Manalani English (from left), Jade Snow and Kainoa Kaili-Kramer practice with their halau, Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, in April 2010. A new study describes health benefits of hula.
Maui News file photo
Mele Look, an investigator on the studies, said there's also evidence that hula has emotional and spiritual benefits.
"Hula has never been used before as an intervention in a scientific research study," Look said. "We wanted to understand it both from the cultural side as well as from the Western scientific side."
One study examined 45 people diagnosed with hypertension. Half of them took hula classes twice a week for 12 weeks, including heart health education. That group saw their systolic blood pressure drop by 20 points on average. The control group saw a nine-point drop. Most of the participants were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
Another study offered hula as rehabilitation for patients after cardiac surgery or heart attacks. The trial showed that hula improved physical functioning and boosted social support, Look said.
"People in the group often felt no one else really understood what they went through or how they were feeling, how vulnerable, facing their mortality," she said. "In the environment of a hula class, they felt supported, and it happened very fast and it lasted."
An earlier stage of the research was accepted for publication in the International Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers found that low-intensity hula was slightly more energetic than fast ballroom dancing and high-intensity hula took more energy than a pickup game of basketball.