Does tai chi practice offer adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) an effective way of improving exercise capacity and overall quality of life? A special report published in Expert Reviews (2013; 7 : 587–92) addresses this question.
COPD is projected to become the third leading cause of death in the world by 2030, and more effective management methods are needed. People with COPD contend with breathing difficulties, cardiovascular limitations and skeletal muscle dysfunction, all of which make physical activity difficult. Pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes exercise training and education, is one of the most effective strategies for managing the condition. To meet growing demand, exercise modalities that are not limited by training venue need to be examined.
Lead review author Regina Leung, PhD, at the University of Sydney, said to IDEA Fitness Journal, “Tai chi can be easily performed in local community venues and is easily modified to accommodate individual needs. As a result, it may overcome some of the barriers to (attending) traditional pulmonary rehabilitation.”
The review suggested that a 12-week tai chi program can improve exercise capacity, quality of life, balance and quadriceps strength for people with mild to moderate COPD. One study also found that tai chi participants reached a moderate level of exercise intensity, meeting the training recommendation for persons with COPD.
Leung said, “In addition to health benefits, people reported high enjoyment with tai chi training, as it was not only helping their physical fitness but also helping their memory, concentration and relaxation. These additional mental challenges seem unique in tai chi training compared with traditional exercise training programs [for] people with COPD.”
Although the mind-body practice of tai chi is beneficial to people with COPD, Leung suggested that before joining a community tai chi program, anyone with the condition should be fully assessed by a health professional, such as a physiotherapist, to learn about managing the disease.
Good-quality research on tai chi participants with COPD is still lacking, noted Leung. Future studies should compare the benefits of tai chi with those of a traditional pulmonary rehabilitation program—considered the gold standard—and examine the long- term benefits of tai chi for people with COPD.