Among Tai Chi’s Many Benefits: Raising Quality of Life in Heart Failure Patients

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Previous studies have linked the practice of tai chi with a host of health benefits. It may help reduce blood pressure, lessen pain from arthritis and fibromyalgia, improve sleep, and ease depression in the elderly. Now add to the list boosting quality of life in heart failure patients.

In a new study, researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital monitored 100 patients with systolic heart failure, randomly assigning them to one of two groups for 12 weeks. One group of patients participated in a twice weekly tai chi exercise program, while the control group received equal time in heart-education training.

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The scientists found that those who did tai chi showed significant improvements in mood and well-being, compared with the education group. Depression-related mood scores dropped for the tai chi group, while those who had the heart training actually saw their scores rise.

People who practiced tai chi also reported increased confidence in performing various other types of exercise (traditionally, heart failure patients had been thought to be too frail to exercise), increased daily levels of activity and greater feelings of well-being, compared with the education group.

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The ancient Chinese meditative exercise involves slow, circular movements and balance-shifting exercises — a practice that is often called “meditation in motion.” Study author Dr. Gloria Yeh of the division of general medicine and primary care at Beth Israel and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said tai chi may be a safe alternative to conventional exercise for people with heart failure.

Because chronic heart failure is a progressive and debilitating condition, “improvement of mood in this population is highly relevant,” said Yeh in a statement.

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To better understand the benefits of tai chi, the researchers say additional studies are necessary to see how the its components affect the body and mind.

The findings were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.