Thirty patients with chronic stable heart failure and left ventricular ejection fraction were randomly assigned to receive usual care, which included pharmacologic therapy and dietary and exercise counseling, or 12 weeks of tai chi training in addition to usual care. Tai chi training consisted of a 1-hour class held twice weekly.
Primary outcomes included quality of life and exercise capacity. Secondary outcomes included serum B-type peptide and plasma catecholamine levels.
RESULTS: At 12 weeks, patients in the tai chi group showed improved quality-of-life scores, increased distance walked in 6 minutes, and decreased serum B-type peptide levels compared with patients in the control group. A trend towards improvement was seen in peak oxygen uptake.
-- American Journal of Medicine, 117, 541-8
Harvard Health Publications
Heart disease. A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of tai chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. The study, which was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi.
Heart failure. In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of tai chi improved participants' ability to walk and quality of life. It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure. A 150-patient controlled trial is under way.
Hypertension. In a review of 26 studies in English or Chinese published in Preventive Cardiology (Spring 2008), Dr. Yeh reported that in 85% of trials, tai chi lowered blood pressure with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
Stroke. In 136 patients who'd had a stroke at least six months earlier, 12 weeks of tai chi improved standing balance more than a general exercise program that entailed breathing, stretching, and mobilizing muscles and joints involved in sitting and walking. Findings were published in the January 2009 issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.
Breathing. Studies have shown better respiratory function in Tai Chi practitioners compared to those who are sdentary. What's more, Tai Chi appears to slow the loss of respiratory function in older adults over time in studies up to five years long. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Page 172)
COPD (Projected to be the 3rd leading cause of death in US by 2020). Conventional pulmonary rehab. programs focus on aerobic exercise and strength training to improve exercise capacity, quality of life, and symptoms in patients with COPD. Tai Chi extends the breathing techniques taught in pulmonary rehab. by integrating novel elements, such as progressive relaxation, imagery/visualization, mindfulness of breathing and overall body sensations, postural training, and coordinated patterns of breathing and movement. These additional therapeutic elements make Tai Chi an effective adjunct to conventional rehabilitation.
Studies: A Harvard study showed that after 12 weeks the Tai Chi group felt significant improvement in chronic respiratory symptoms compared to the usual COPD care group. The Tai Chi group also had slight improvements in their six-minute walking distance, depression, and shortness of breath. Harvard is following up with a larger NIH funded study to compare a Tai Chi group to other meditative techniques, as well as to a non-exercise education program.
A larger Hong Kong study found a Tai Chi Qigong group improved key measures of respiratory function and participated in higher levels of activity when compared to a walking plus breathing exercise or usual care group. The Tai Chi group also reported greater improvements in respiratory health-related quality of life.
Research shows that Tai Chi-like exercises, including Qigong, may help sustain the gains COPD patients make after completing pulmonary rehabilitation, which often is lost after about six months. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, pages 176 to 178.)
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