UH Manoa John A. Burns School of Medicine researcher's discover that hula can be an effective and engaging cardiac rehabilitation therapy.

For the first time ever, researchers have determined the metabolic equivalent for hula in a study that shows the Native Hawaiian dance form can be an effective and engaging cardiac rehabilitation therapy. Researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine and The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu presented preliminary findings to the participants of the study on August 28, 2012.

The Hula Empowering Lifestyle Adaptations (HELA) study followed 60 participants, all of whom had suffered a heart attack, heart failure or undergone heart surgery within 2 to 12 weeks before the five-year research project began.

“The goal was to establish the measured metabolic rate of hula practice, and learn whether physicians might be able to prescribe hula as a cardiac rehabilitation therapy,” said Mele Look, director of community engagement for JABSOM’s Department of Native Hawaiian Health. “What we found was that hula can match the cardiac workout of a pick-up basketball game.”

While hula is known worldwide and deeply connected to Hawaiʻi’s identity, Look noted, the HELA study is the first time that hula has been scientifically evaluated as part of a health program.

Heart disease is of particular concern for Native Hawaiians, whose heart disease death rates are almost twice that of other ethnic groups. The researchers believe social support plays an important role in recovery from hospitalization for a major cardiac event, improving long-term survival and lowering the risk or re-hospitalization.

HELA researchers include Todd Seto of The Queen’s Medical Center and JABSOM’s Center for Cardiovascular Research, Keaweʻaimoku Kaholokula of JABSOM’s Department of Native Hawaiian Health, Mele Look of JABSOM’s Department of Native Hawaiian Health, Mapuana de Silva of Hālau Mōhala ʻIlima, Kahealani Rivera of The Queen’s Medical Center, Gregory Maskiranic of JABSOM’s Department of Native Hawaiian Health and Kalehua Felice Tolentino of The Queen’s Medical Center.

HELA study findings

  • The level of energy expended dancing hula, among competitive hula dancers when dancing continuously, is similar to a pick-up basketball game and a casual tennis match. High intensity dances of hula were measured in the range of a competitive basketball or volleyball game.
  • Utilization of hula-based cardiac rehabilitation program was found, in preliminary results, to provide cardiopulmonary benefits similar to what is expected from a cardiac rehabilitation.
  • High levels of social support were created in the hula-based cardiac rehabilitation class. Participants reported improvement in mental and social well-being. They also reported the cultural content enhanced the therapy and specifically that hula integrated mind, body, spirit and culture.

Adapted from a UH Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine news release.

HELA research shared in Washington D.C.

Researchers from the Hula Enabling Lifestyle Adaptation study was part of the University of Hawaiʻi delegation to the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Watch the UH News video to learn more.