Tai chi is an ancient practice that combines breathing techniques, meditation and body movements performed in slow-motion. Although first taught as a form of self-defense, tai chi is now practiced by millions of people worldwide as a means of reducing stress, promoting balance and flexibility, and enhancing well-being.
A recent study examined the role tai chi can play in treating heart failure. In the trial, 30 patients with chronic stable heart failure (average age 64) were randomized to receive either "usual care" (consisting of drug therapy and diet/exercise counseling), or usual care plus 12 weeks of tai chi training. Tai chi training consisted of a one-hour tai chi class held twice weekly. To measure changes between groups, the researchers incorporated a variety of tests, including a quality of life questionnaire and an exercise capacity test.
At the end of 12 weeks, patients in the tai chi group had significantly improved quality of life scores compared to the usual care-only group (an average of 25 points higher among tai chi patients).
In addition, patients in the tai chi group were able to walk longer distances without difficulty, and had lower levels of B-type natriuretic peptides (an indicator of heart failure) than usual care-only patients. The researchers concluded that tai chi "may be a beneficial adjunctive treatment that enhances quality of life and functional capacity in patients with chronic heart failure who are already receiving standard medical therapy."
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Yeh GY, Wood MJ, Lorell BH, et al. Effects of tai chi mind-body movement therapy on functional status on exercise capacity in patients with chronic heart failure: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Medicine Oct. 15, 2004;117(8):541-548.