Tai Chi good for the heart

Tai chi, often called “meditation in motion”, appears to improve the quality of life in people with heart failure, say researchers at Harvard Medical School.

The ancient Chinese exercise of tai chi features physical movements that are slow and gentle and require concentration.

“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 researchers write.

And, until now, the effects of meditative exercise have not been rigorously studied in a large group of heart failure patients.

Scientists at Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre followed 100 outpatients who had reduced heart-pumping function (“systolic heart failure”) and put them into two random groups of 50.

One group took part in a 12-week tai chi-based exercise programme, and the other group received time-matched education sessions. Both groups attended their sessions twice per week and were similar in terms of baseline demographics, severity of heart disease, and rates of other medical conditions.

By the end of the study, people practising tai chi had greater improvements in quality of life, including increased confidence to perform various forms of exercise, increased daily activity levels, and greater feelings of well-being, as compared to people in the education-only cohort. The exercise encourages gentle, flowing circular movements, balance and weight shifting, and practising of breathing techniques. According to the researchers, tai chi for heart failure patients is “safe and has good rates of adherence”.

This form of exercise may also be beneficial for people with hypertension, balance problems, and an impaired exercise capacity, the researchers write.

The exercise appears to decrease anxiety, enhance vigour, and improve mood and is a safe alternative to moderate-intensity conventional exercise training.

The study is published in the April 25 issues of the Archives of Internal Medicine.