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Heart Health

10 July 2020

Tai chi could be good medicine for heart patients

According to researchers, tai chi was associated with lower levels of mental distress, reductions in depression, and improved quality of life.

  • Analysis of clinical trials found that tai chi improved the mental state of almost 2 000 people
  • This improvement can reduce stress, anxiety and depression among heart disease patients
  • Tai chi arguably benefits practitioners' mental state through the synergy between postures and breathing

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Tai chi might be just what doctors should order for their heart patients, new research suggests.

Many of these folks experience anxiety, stress and depression. For example, depression affects about 20% of people with heart disease or heart failure, 27% of those with high blood pressure, and 35% of stroke survivors.

Tai chi is a mind-body exercise that combines set movements with relaxation and breathing. It requires concentration on posture, relaxation and breathing.

Researchers analysed 15 clinical trials that examined how tai chi affected the mental well-being of more than 1 800 people, average age 66, who had heart disease, heart failure, high blood pressure, or had survived a stroke.

Physical and mental benefits

Overall, tai chi was associated with lower levels of mental distress, reductions in depression, and improved quality of life, including: mental health quality of life (how patients felt and their ability to go out and socialise) and physical health quality of life (walking and ability to do daily activities).

So how does tai chi benefit your mental state? "I think it's the synergy between postures and breathing. During tai chi, you have good body posture, and research has shown that this enhances mood. We also know that holding your breath can cause stress and anxiety," explained study author Ruth Taylor-Piliae, from the University of Arizona.

However, the study found no statistically significant association between tai chi and reduced anxiety, and tai chi did not have a noticeable impact on the well-being of stroke survivors. The findings were published on 8 June in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

"This is because there were very few studies on psychological well-being or quality of life variables in this group. There is a lot of research on tai chi in stroke survivors, but nearly all of them looked at physical function such as balance and gait," Taylor-Piliae said in a journal news release.

Further research is needed to learn how tai chi can improve mental health, she noted.

"If you've had a heart attack or stroke, or are affected by another heart condition, I would strongly recommend adding tai chi to your recovery and rehabilitation," Taylor-Piliae said. "There are physical benefits like improved balance, and it's good for mental health, too."

Image credit: iStock