Research shows tai chi may be promising cardiac rehab exercise

More than 60 percent of heart attack patients turn down participation in cardiac rehabilitation.
By Amy Wallace  |  Oct. 11, 2017 at 12:01 PM
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Oct. 11 (UPI) -- Research shows that tai chi could be effective as an alternative exercise option for patients who turn down cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack.

Tai chi, or tai chi chuan, is an ancient Chinese non-competitive, self-paced system of gentle physical exercise and stretching and has been associated with reduced stress, according to a report by the Mayo Clinic.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that more than 60 percent of heart attack patients do not participate in recommended cardiac rehab for a variety of reasons including travel and financial concerns, and perceived difficulty completing cardiac rehab exercises.

"We thought that Tai Chi might be a good option for these people because you can start very slowly and simply and, as their confidence increases, the pace and movements can be modified to increase intensity," Dr. Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University, said in a newsrelease. "Tai Chi exercise can reach low-to-moderate intensity levels. The emphasis on breathing and relaxation can also help with stress reduction and psychological distress."

Researchers used an adapted tai chi routine at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I., on 29 physically inactive heart disease patients. Of the eight women and 21 men, whose average age was 68 years old, all had declined traditional cardiac rehabilitation and continued high-risk factors including smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity.

The study found that tai chi was safe and well-liked by participants. Feasible with patients attending 66 percent of scheduled classes, it increased the weekly amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity after three and six months.

"On its own, Tai Chi wouldn't obviously replace other components of traditional cardiac rehabilitation, such as education on risk factors, diet and adherence to needed medications," Salmoirago-Blotcher said. "If proven effective in larger studies, it might be possible to offer it as an exercise option within a rehab center as a bridge to more strenuous exercise, or in a community setting with the educational components of rehab delivered outside of a medical setting."

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