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Tai Chi Has Benefits For Heart Failure Patients

April 26, 2011

Tai chi, a meditative form of an ancient Chinese exercise regimen, could help people with chronic heart failure have a better quality of life, a US study suggested on Monday.

Patients who completed two group sessions of one hour each every week showed significant improvements in their mood and confidence, according to the Boston-based study published April 25 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association.

“Historically, patients with chronic systolic heart failure were considered too frail to exercise and, through the late 1980s, avoidance of physical activity was a standard recommendation,” the authors write as background information in the study. “Preliminary evidence suggests that meditative exercise may have benefits for patients with chronic systolic heart failure; this has not been rigorously tested in a large clinical sample.”

Gloria Y. Yeh, M.D., M.P.H., of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and her colleagues conducted a study comparing 50 US heart patients who enrolled in tai chi classes to another 50 who took classroom studies in heart education.

The two groups were generally similar in demographics, clinical classification of heart disease severity, and rates of co-morbidities.

The researchers found that physical responses were similar in both groups, but those who did tai chi showed “significant” improvements according to a questionnaire assessing their emotional state.

The tai chi group also reported better “exercise self-efficacy (confidence to perform certain exercise-related activities), with increased daily activity, and related feelings of well-being compared with the education group,” said the study.

Although experts do not fully understand the science behind the findings, the study does show that people with chronic heart failure — a debilitating and progressive disease that limits a person’s ability to breathe and move — could benefit from the exercise program along with standard medical care.

At the study’s end, there were no significant differences in change in six-minute walk distance and peak oxygen uptake when comparing the tai chi to control groups. However, patients in the tai chi group had greater improvements in quality of life. The tai chi group also showed improvements in exercise self-efficacy with increased daily activity, and related feelings of well-being compared with the education group.

“Tai chi appears to be a safe alternative to low-to-moderate intensity conventional exercise training,” Yeh told AFP. “Tai chi is safe and has a good rate of adherence and may provide value in improving daily exercise, quality of life, self-efficacy and mood in frail, deconditioned patients with systolic heart failure.”

“A more restricted focus on traditional measured exercise capacity may underestimate the potential benefits of integrated interventions such as tai chi,” she said.

Previous studies have suggested tai chi — which involves slow, circular movements and balance-shifting exercises — may also be helpful to people who suffer from high blood pressure, fibromyalgia and stress.

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