Hula for Health

  • Bill Buley / TGI file photo

    Students dance at Kapaa Elementary School’s May Festival earlier this year.

LIHUE — A new study out of the University of Hawaii is showing what hula can do for hypertension.

The results of the five-year study were announced at the national American Heart Association meeting in September, highlighting benefits to hula like lowered blood pressure and reduced risk of heart disease.

Most of the study was directed specifically at Native Hawaiians.

Researchers recruited 263 Native Hawaiians in nine communities on three islands. All were given three-hour sessions of hypertension education that included information on diet, exercise and the use of medications.

Then, participants were randomly assigned to a control group that received no additional intervention, or to a hula intervention.

Study participants reported positive results.

“I don’t want to say I would be dead, but I would have probably had a heart attack or stroke by now, because I know exactly what I didn’t do,” said Arma Oana, a study participant. “I didn’t exercise until I came to the program. I didn’t think I could.”

Another study participant, Luana Albino of Waimanalo said, “When I lost my first two pounds I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve been trying forever to lose weight and I couldn’t. I saw my blood pressure and diabetes (go down).”

Principal investigator for the study Keawe‘aimoku Kaholokula, chair of the medical school’s Department of Native Hawaiian Health, said his researchers have found that Native Hawaiians want group-based and culturally relevant lifestyle interventions that resonate with their cultural values and perspectives.

“Hula is fun, it’s something you can do at an older age as well as a young age,” said Kaholokula. “It can be adjusted, modified for people with different physical capacity. You can do the Merrie Monarch competition duck walks for younger people and you can do the slower, gentle side-to-side (motion) for older folks; so I think it’s a type of physical activity that makes sense, that we can really use for health promotion.”

Kauai kumu Sabra Kauka, cultural practitioner and hula teacher, said she sees physical benefits to hula as well as others.

“Hula is good for the soul. It’s good for the body, mind and soul,” Kauka said.

For the body, hula exercises a vast array of muscles, providing good exercise, dexterity and rhythm. It increases strength and provides good cardio exercise.

“But more than the physical exercise hula is good for the mind and soul,” Kauka said.

She continued: “It’s good for your mind because you’re learning something about Hawaii. Whether you are honoring an ali‘i or a place you are learning something about our beautiful islands.

“Then there’s the soul food. When you find a kumu and a halau that resonates with you — those people can be with you for the rest of your life. You support each other through all of life’s challenges. It is an amazing and fulfilling journey.”


Jessica Else, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or at


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