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Oct 25, 2017

Tai Chi Boosts Quality of Life in Patients with Heart Disease

Tai chi shows promise for people with heart disease who decline traditional rehab programs.

Tai chi is a promising alternative for patients who don’t want to attend cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack, based on a recent study that links a 6-month tai chi program to weight loss and improved quality of life.

Published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, this study tested whether tai chi may be useful for patients who decline going to cardiac rehab.

Cardiac rehab is a comprehensive program that helps patients build up their strength after a heart attack, adopt heart-healthy behaviors and take control of any risk factors that put them at increased risk for future heart events. While cardiac rehab is strongly recommended for all patients after heart attack, an estimated 60% of patients decline participation. Experts wonder if a less intensive program like tai chi may be useful and appealing for patients who are unwilling to participate in a complete cardiac rehab program.

To learn more, researchers tested a tai chi program in 29 patients with heart disease who were generally inactive. Tai chi is a traditional Chinese martial art that involves gentle body movements accompanied by relaxation and breathing exercises.

One group of participants participated in a “lite” program which included two tai chi sessions a week for three months. The second group participated in three sessions a week for three months, followed by maintenance classes for three additional months. The goal was to see whether tai chi is safe, enjoyable, and has any impact on participants’ health and quality of life.

After following participants for nine months, researchers found that tai chi shows promise for patients with existing heart disease. Participants in the intensive tai chi program were significantly more active, lost more weight and reported a higher quality of life compared to those in the less intensive group. There were also no safety issues reported and roughly 90% of participants completed the program, suggesting that tai chi is both safe and well-accepted by patients.

While cardiac rehab is still the best option for patients with heart disease, experts are encouraged by findings. Tai chi may be a useful form of exercise for cardiac rehab programs, as it’s safe for high-risk patients. Findings also suggest that tai chi alone may be beneficial for patients who are unwilling to participate in a rehab program.

The next step, according to authors, is to study whether tai chi actually improves outcomes, such as reducing risk for heart events and increasing survival.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is cardiac rehabilitation?
  • Cardiac rehabilitation (cardiac rehab) is a program designed to help patients recover from a heart event and build the foundation for a healthier future. Cardiac rehab typically involves an individualized exercise and lifestyle modification program, and provides a support system to help patients take control of risk factors, monitor progress, communicate with doctors, and adopt lifelong healthy behaviors. Services are provided by a team of nurses, exercise specialists, dieticians and other health care professionals led by a physician.  Cardiac rehab has been shown to improve both outcomes and better quality of life for patients after a heart event.

  • How can I help prevent a second heart attack?
  • Patients with a history of heart attack have significantly increased risk of a second heart event. Participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program can help patients regain strength after a heart attack and teach individuals how to prevent a second heart attack, like by quitting smoking, reducing blood pressure, staying active, eating healthy, and adhering to therapies advised by the doctor.

Featured Video

Cardiac rehabilitation is a proven way for heart patients to regain strength and improve their overall health.


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