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UNLV professor studies the effect of ballroom dance on heart health

Monday October 14, 2013
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Alona Angosta, APRN
(Aaron Mayes, UNLV photographer)
To many people, enjoyment and exercise seem incompatible, but to Filipino Americans at heightened risk for coronary heart disease those words make sense when it comes to
ballroom dancing.

“Filipino Americans are a population at risk for heart disease because many have more than one cardiac risk factor: hypertension, high cholesterol, lack of exercise and also diabetes,” says Alona Angosta, APRN, PhD, FNP, NP-C. Her recently completed research study examining whether ballroom dancing as a form of exercise can reduce hypertension capitalized on Filipino Americans’ love of dancing.

In southern Nevada, where Angosta is an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Nursing, Filipino Americans are the fastest growing population group in Nevada, particularly in Clark County where many have moved to for work. Angosta and university colleague Rhigel Jay Alforque Tan, RN, DNP, APN, PMHNP, GNP, ANP, both Filipino Americans, recognized the need for this population to address their risk for CHD.

“Some of my own family and friends are affected by CHD,” Angosta said. “Other studies have documented that a lack of exercise contributes to the development of chronic disease. I wanted to find an activity for this group to get them to exercise.”

She and Tan landed on ballroom dance — energetic salsa, rumba and cha cha, not sedate waltzes — as the ideal choice.

“The CDC considers ballroom dance a moderate intensity activity, like aerobics,” said Angosta, adding: “Filipino Americans love to dance.”

Tan added it’s a form of sustainable exercise since dancing is a popular component of FA social life, from weddings and birthday celebrations to casino dances.
Through Tan’s community contacts,

Angosta recruited 41 participants, ages 35-65, who danced once a week for two hours. "Thirty-seven individuals completed the three month study earlier this year and some experienced clinical improvements on either their blood pressure, waist circumference, heart rate or weight compared with their stats at the start of the study." Most importantly, “they all said they enjoyed dancing and wanted to continue,” she reported.

Anna Melissa Lopez-Sanglay is one study participant who’s still dancing after the study. “I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I didn’t think about it being a workout because I was meeting new people and learning something new.”

Not only did Lopez-Sanglay find her blood pressure decreased from about 140/90 to 128/80 and her heart rate dropped by 20 beats per minute after three months, she said she loved the increase in her daily energy level. “The dancing workout also has decreased my stress,” she said.


Anna Melissa Lopez-Sanglay (forefront, left) and her dance partner for the day Sonny Ligutom join others who took part in a study lead by a UNLV professor to see if weekly ballroom dancing would improve their heart health.
(Aaron Mayes, UNLV photographer)
Though Angosta isn’t keeping track of how many participants continue to dance, she and Tan were surprised at how eager the individuals were about the activity after the study concluded. Sanglay, who’s still dancing, and others who took part in the study have plenty of opportunities to continue their new exercise habit: local dance studios offer dances and lessons. Community centers, senior centers and casinos provide other opportunities. “You can learn it and do it at home,” Angosta noted, by watching YouTube videos and by downloading digital apps.

Angosta also shares her research findings with undergraduate nursing students she teaches at UNLV, urging them to consider the importance of being role models and advocates for patients. “I tell them that physical activity isn’t just about going to the gym. Students are receptive, especially when I tell them about the ballroom dancing. They realize it’s not competitive, it’s not a sport, but it can be an enjoyable activity that people want to keep doing.”

Tan, who was a ballroom dancer before the study, agrees that nurses who work with patients who need to increase their exercise or lower other lifestyle risk factors should see themselves as role models. “People in the community look at nurses as an authority. Because I ballroom dance, it’s easier to convince others [to try it],” he said.

Angosta’s next study will compare the differences in biometric measurements between Filipino Americans who dance and those who do not.


Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or e-mail editorWest@gannetthg.com.