Tai chi may be a beneficial form of physical activity for long-term cardiac rehabilitation patients, according to a study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing (2010; doi:10.1016/j.ejcnurse.2010.11.001). Study subjects were adults aged 45 and older attending phase III cardiac rehabilitation; the aim was to describe differences in physical, cognitive and psychosocial functioning between those who practiced tai chi and those did not. Phase III rehab typically begins 6–12 months after the initial coronary event; the goal is for patients to maintain heart health and healthy lifestyle behaviors achieved in phase II. The challenge is that while long-term cardiac rehab is beneficial for patients, program adherence tends to be low.
Researchers from the University of Arizona College of Nursing enrolled 51 subjects, average age 70, from two cardiac rehab facilities in Tucson. Twenty-three attended tai chi classes and cardiac rehabilitation, while 28 attended cardiac rehab only. Tai chi participants all studied with the same instructor, who had 45 years of Wu-style experience. Each participant progressed at his or her own pace. Classes were offered for 75 minutes, 4 days per week; home practice was encouraged.
Investigators evaluated psychosocial, physical and cognitive functioning and collected health histories for each subject. Data analysis showed that balance and perceived physical health were significantly better in those taking tai chi. No statistically significant differences between groups existed for aerobic endurance, strength, flexibility or cognitive functioning.
Study limitations included the fact that it was cross-sectional and collected data at only a single time point; as a result, causal relationships could not be determined. In addition, study subjects were not necessarily representative of all adults aged 45 and older who enroll in phase III cardiac rehab. Lead study author Ruth Taylor-Piliae, PhD, RN, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholar at the University of Arizona College of Nursing, said, “Tai chi provided benefits beyond the traditional cardiac rehabilitation program, with significantly better balance observed. Good balance is important for all adults, regardless of health condition. Tai chi can be easily implemented in any community or cardiac rehabilitation facility, and offers adults additional options for engaging in physical activity following a cardiac event.”
To learn more about a University of Arizona study of tai chi’s benefits for stroke survivors, go to http://taichi.nursing.arizona.edu/index.asp.