Tai Chi for Heart Health

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Tai Chi for Heart Health

Traditional Chinese exercises may improve cardiovascular health

Traditional Chinese exercises such as Tai Chi may improve the health and well-being of those living with heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Traditional Chinese exercises are a low-risk, promising intervention that could be helpful in improving quality of life in patients with cardiovascular diseases—the leading cause of disability and death in the world,” said Yu Liu, Ph.D., study co-author, and dean of the School of Kinesiology, at Shanghai University of Sport in China. “But the physical and psychological benefits to these patients of this increasingly popular form of exercise must be determined based on scientific evidence.”

Chen Pei-Jie, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and president of Shanghai University of Sport in China and his team reviewed 35 studies that included 2,249 participants from 10 countries. They found, among participants with cardiovascular disease, Chinese exercises helped reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number) by more than 9.12 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by more than 5 mm Hg on average.

They also found small, but significant drops in the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides. Chinese exercises also seemed to improve quality of life and reduce depression in patients with cardiovascular disease. However, traditional Chinese exercises did not significantly improve participant’s heart rate, aerobic fitness level or scores on a general health questionnaire.

The review analyzed only studies which randomly assigned participants to groups performing traditional Chinese exercises (most commonly Tai Chi, Qigong and Baduanjin), engaging in another form of exercise or making no change in activity level.

Note that although their review provided a good overview of the impact of traditional Chinese exercises on cardiovascular risk factors, there were several limitations, including varied criteria across studies; participants were followed for a short time, usually a year or less; traditional Chinese exercises take many different forms, but only the most common forms were evaluated; and most results were studied by study leaders who knew to which group participants had been assigned, potentially biasing results.

It’s also not clear from this study how many participants were African American, though we are much more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol (all risk factors for heart disease) than other ethnic groups, and have the largest age-adjusted death rates due to heart disease.

Roslyn Daniels