A blood-pressure-lowering program incorporating the cultural dance of hula has lowered blood pressure among native Hawaiians, more than standard diet and exercise programs.
A former study conducted by a research team at the University of Hawaii showed that rates of heart disease and stroke are four times higher among native Hawaiians than in non-Hispanic whites, despite receiving medical treatment of high blood pressure. The research also found that the typical lifestyle programs aimed at lowering blood pressure are less attractive to Native Hawaiians, who find the activity components boring and the dietary goals unrealistic and difficult to sustain over time. These findings prompted the researchers to look into more attractive treatments, such as the popular Hula dance.
During the study, which was revealed at the American Heart Association Conference, the team recruited more than 250 Native Hawaiians (average age 58 years, 80 percent female) who, although under medical treatment for high blood pressure, still had a systolic blood pressure. The participants were divided into two groups. The Hula group participants attended one-hour group hula classes twice a week for three months, followed by one monthly lesson for three additional months, and continued their usual medical treatment during the study. The others were assigned to a control group that received the traditional hypertension treatment with no Hula practices.
During the conference, Dr. Keawe'aimoku Kaholokula, lead author of the study, said: "The participants who did Hula managed to lower their blood pressure to under 130/80 mmHg, the current target for blood pressure treatment for patients without diabetes, and that significantly reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure."
"The participants said the hula was fun and helped meet their spiritual and cultural needs," Kaholokula said.
Although the study was conducted in Native Hawaiians, results may apply to other groups.
"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 such as American Indians, Alaska Natives," Kaholokula noted.