CARDIOVASCUALAR BENEFIT. Research has shown that the extremely gentle low impact T'ai Chi exercise can provide the same cardiovascular benefit as moderate impact aerobic exercise. The Harvard Women's Health Watch reported, "studies support Tai Chi [use] for heart-attack and cardiac-bypass patients, to improve cardiorespiratory function and reduce blood pressure."
A total of 29 studies met inclusion criteria, including 9 randomized controlled trials, 14 nonrandomized studies, and 6 observational trials. The study subjects included patients with coronary heart disease, heart failure, CVD, and CVDRF (hypertension, dyslipidemia, impaired glucose metabolism). Tai Chi interventions ranged from 8 weeks to 3 years, and the sample size ranged from 5 to 207. Most studies reported improvement with Tai Chi intervention, such as reduction in blood pressure and increase in exercise capacity. In addition, no adverse effects were reported. The authors concluded that Tai Chi may be a beneficial adjunctive therapy for patients with CVD and CVDRF.- Medscape Today, from WebMD, 10/26/2010
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The Tai Chi group showed 19% higher peak oxygen uptake in comparison with their sedentary counterparts. In addition, the Tai Chi practitioners had greater flexibility and lower percentage of body fat in comparison with their sedentary counterparts.
-- Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation 77(6), 612-616
Tai Chi was observed to be equally effective as aerobic exercise in reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
A growing body of evidence suggests Tai Chi practice, even over short periods of time, may improve cardiovascular health. Depending on how it is practiced, Tai Chi has been characterized as a low to moderate intensity exercise. Three studies are briefly discussed to illustrate the types of evidence available to evaluate the impact that Tai Chi may have on components of cardiovascular health. Young et al.  conducted a well designed, randomized controlled trial with 62 subjects that compared the effects of aerobic exercise versus Tai Chi on blood pressure in mildly hypertensive older adults. Over the 12-week study period, Tai Chi was observed to be equally effective as aerobic exercise in reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
-- Read more at Tufts University's website
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Heart disease. A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of tai chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. The study, which was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found no improvement in a control group that did not practice tai chi.
Heart failure. In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of tai chi improved participants' ability to walk and quality of life. It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure. A 150-patient controlled trial is under way.
Hypertension. In a review of 26 studies in English or Chinese published in Preventive Cardiology (Spring 2008), Dr. Yeh reported that in 85% of trials, tai chi lowered blood pressure with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
Stroke. In 136 patients who'd had a stroke at least six months earlier, 12 weeks of tai chi improved standing balance more than a general exercise program that entailed breathing, stretching, and mobilizing muscles and joints involved in sitting and walking. Findings were published in the January 2009 issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.
Breathing. Studies have shown better respiratory function in Tai Chi practitioners compared to those who are sdentary. What's more, Tai Chi appears to slow the loss of respiratory function in older adults over time in studies up to five years long. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi. Page 172)
COPD (Projected to be the 3rd leading cause of death in US by 2020). Conventional pulmonary rehab. programs focus on aerobic exercise and strength training to improve exercise capacity, quality of life, and symptoms in patients with COPD. Tai Chi extends the breathing techniques taught in pulmonary rehab. by integrating novel elements, such as progressive relaxation, imagery/visualization, mindfulness of breathing and overall body sensations, postural training, and coordinated patterns of breathing and movement. These additional therapeutic elements make Tai Chi an effective adjunct to conventional rehabilitation.
Studies: A Harvard study showed that after 12 weeks the Tai Chi group felt significant improvement in chronic respiratory symptoms compared to the usual COPD care group. The Tai Chi group also had slight improvements in their six-minute walking distance, depression, and shortness of breath. Harvard is following up with a larger NIH funded study to compare a Tai Chi group to other meditative techniques, as well as to a non-exercise education program.
A larger Hong Kong study found a Tai Chi Qigong group improved key measures of respiratory function and participated in higher levels of activity when compared to a walking plus breathing exercise or usual care group. The Tai Chi group also reported greater improvements in respiratory health-related quality of life.
Research shows that Tai Chi-like exercises, including Qigong, may help sustain the gains COPD patients make after completing pulmonary rehabilitation, which often is lost after about six months. (Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, pages 176 to 178.)
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