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A former Miss America contestant uses low-impact workouts to build lean muscle and core strength — and protect her heart

Gabby Landsverk   

A former Miss America contestant uses low-impact workouts to build lean muscle and core strength — and protect her heart
  • Pro dancer Madeline Collins said she loves low-impact workouts like barre and walking to stay in shape.
  • Collins, 28, said regular workouts keep her at peak fitness in spite of her heart condition.

Madeline Collins, the 2018 Miss West Virginia who competed for the title of Miss America 2019, knows firsthand the hard work that goes into getting a dancer's graceful, athletic physique.

She worked as a professional dancer for years, including full-time with the Walt Disney Company, despite living with a serious heart condition since she was born.

Most people with the condition are told to remain sedentary for their own safety — Collins pursued a career dancing down Disney World's Main Street, sometimes in 100-degree heat.

"You need a lot of stamina to endure a Disney parade. It is so physically demanding. It's like nothing I've ever done before but it's one of the most joyous things," Collins, 28, told Business Insider in an interview coordinated through the fitness company Pure Barre.

Collins is, unsurprisingly, a fan of barre workouts — she partnered with Pure Barre because it merges her love of dance with low-impact workouts to keep her heart healthy and maintain her fitness without the strain of full-time dancing. She also swears by long walks to stay healthy.

"It's not like I'm doing anything crazy. It's the simplest things that anyone can do to stay healthy," she said. "I'm not going to be dancing down Main Street when I'm 60 but that's an easy way to maintain the body I've built."

She said low-impact exercise is her favorite way to build strength, grace, and core stability, and the workouts can help you exercise to move like a dancer, even if you didn't grow up doing ballet.

Low-impact exercise can help you build strength at your own pace

Collins said she was drawn to barre — which focus on small, deliberate movements, like engaging your inner thigh muscles in a leg lift — because it's so similar to dancing.

"I don't think you have to be a ballerina," she said. "It offers the ability to work out hard, sweat, and see significant change without shooting up your heart rate."

Tiny motions can be deceptively intense, so it's important to start slow. Try a deep squat pulse for 30 seconds or more and you'll see. Isometric exercise, such as planks, provides a similar benefit, too.

Subtle motions work to build muscle and strength (although not in quite the same way as lifting heavy weights) by keeping the body under tension, which can be challenging but effective.

"When you look at a dancer's body and see all those beautiful sculpted muscles, that's all the work they put in," Collins said. "It's a lot of tiny movements where you're flexing your muscle but you really feel it the next morning."

Walking is a great way to improve heart health

Collins was born with a rare condition called Tetralogy of Fallot, involving four defects of the heart, which can the flow of oxygen through the body.

She said sometimes causes numbness in her legs with exertion. Collins stays active at a lower intensity by making walks an essential part of her routine.

She currently works at a children's hospital and walks about two miles roundtrip and back every workday.

Collins said the extra movement in her routine helps her feel focused and energized.

Research suggests walking more can help improve your heart health and reduce your risk of illness. Adding 500-1000 extra steps per day can boost your health and fitness, a cardiologist previously told BI.