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Tai Chi and Heart Health

Recent research offers more good news on the benefits of the most popular form of group exercise in the world—traditional Chinese exercises. These include tai chi and qigong, mind-body exercises that focus on posture, coordination of breath with movement, and meditation.

“Traditional Chinese exercises are a low-risk, promising intervention that could be helpful in improving quality of life in patients with cardiovascular diseases—the leading cause of disability and death in the world,” said study co-author Yu Liu, PhD, dean of the School of Kinesiology at Shanghai University of Sport in Shanghai, in an American Heart Association news release. “But the physical and psychological benefits to these patients of this increasingly popular form of exercise must be determined based on scientific evidence.”

To examine that evidence, Shanghai University scientists conducted a research review of 35 studies with a total of 2, 249 subjects from 10 countries. All studies were randomized controlled trials that included both a movement group and a control group. Key findings included beneficial reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure among participants with heart disease, and significant drops in levels of harmful cholesterol and tryiglycerides. In addition, practitioners reported improved quality of life and less depression compared with control group members. No differences were found in heart rate, cardiovascular fitness levels, or scores on a general health questionnaire.

The review was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (2016; doi:10.1161/JAHA.115.002562). Study limitations included the short duration of participant follow-up (less than 1 year), potential for inclusion bias, and the fact that inclusion criteria varied across studies. The reviewers recommended that more multicenter research trials be conducted with large sample sizes and longer follow-up.

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