Tai Chi May Ward Off Heart Disease in Seniors, Study Shows

A new study published online this month in the “European Journal of Preventive Cardiology,” shows seniors practicing the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi can boost their heart health, lowering blood pressure and strengthening muscles, the New York Daily News reported.

Researchers from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University studied 65 elderly participants from Hong Kong, of which 29 were recruited from local tai chi clubs and practiced tai chi for 90 minutes a week over a period of three years, according to the report. Those who practiced the technique, which includes deep breathing combined with gentle movements, showed the following:

  • significant improvement in knee muscle strength
  • improvement in the expansion and contraction of the arteries (known as arterial compliance), which helps prevent cardiovascular disease
  • seniors in the study who didn’t practice had a 44 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who did

“This is the first study to investigate the possible effects of tai chi on arterial compliance by comparing older tai chi practitioners with non-practitioners similar in age and activity level,” said researcher Dr. William Tsang in the NY Daily News report. “The improvement in arterial compliance could have resulted from a combination of aerobic training, stretching, mental concentration and calm meditation during tai chi movement.”

Website Offers Details on Risks, Side Effects of Popular Alternative Medicine

It is estimated that more than 83 million Americans use some form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) to manage and treat their health problems including pain, spending more than $33.9 billion a year on out-of-pocket visits to CAM practitioners and purchases of CAM products, classes and materials. Some of the most common pain-related reasons people seek CAM therapies are for back pain, followed by neck pain, joint pain, arthritis, severe headaches or migraines and fibromyalgia pain.

The American Pain Foundation (APF) launched a new online educational module at the Web site, www.painsafe.com, focusing on the safe use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as part of its PainSAFE (Pain Safety & Access For Everyone) initiative, with information for both consumers and health care professionals.

“There are many different treatment options available to lessen the pain, improve functioning and enhance quality of life for the more than 116 million Americans living with chronic pain, including CAM therapy,” said Will Rowe, CEO of APF. “What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. An effective pain management plan must be individualized and very often an integrative approach, which includes a combination of treatment options, is needed.”

The module, developed with materials and assistance from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), provides information on the effectiveness of CAM therapies for managing pain, possible side effects and risks associated with each therapy, and how these therapies can be used safely. CAM therapies highlighted include acupuncture, massage, spinal manipulation, relaxation therapies, yoga, tai chi and dietary supplements.

“A person in pain should be informed about all of their treatment options, risks associated with each option, possible side effects, and how these options can safely be used to manage their pain,” Rowe said. “PainSAFE provides consumers the tools and resources they need to become active participants in their pain care and offers health care providers the latest scientific information on treatment modalities.”

In addition to this new module, PainSAFE also offers resources on over-the-counter medication, including acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. There is also an interactive Are You PainSAFE? quiz to allow people to test their pain safety knowledge.

Tai Chi May Improve Rheumatoid Arthritis

Practicing tai chi on a regular basis may significantly improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. There have been a number of studies on the benefits of practicing tai chi to improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis including joint pain, stiffness and weakness, and doing so may significantly improve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, according Patrick B. Massey, M.D., Ph.D in an article for the Chicago Daily Herald.

As medical director for complementary and alternative medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network, Massey explained that while there are a number of medical therapies proven to slow the progress of rheumatoid arthritis, such as anti-inflammatory medications, steroids and disease modifying medications specifically targeting the immune system, side effects often limit the use.

Physical therapies are beneficial and reduce the need for medication, but long-term compliance can be a problem. However, tai chi exercises often show better compliance, he explained in the article.

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art practiced primarily for health benefits, with slow, methodical and repetitive movements, which strengthen the tissues around the joints, Massey said. This can improve balance and strength, and also reduce pain. Over the past two decades, there is significant research published in the medical literature on the benefits of tai chi for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the article.

A recent medical study published in the medical journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders re-examined the use of tai chi exercises in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and found there was the expected improvement in physical function, but patients also felt better, mentally, after practicing tai chi, according to the Daily Herald article. Stress levels were lower, energy levels were higher and overall mental outlook was brighter – so patients kept up with the practice because they actually felt better doing it.

“I strongly agree with the results of the study,” Massey said in the article. “In my experience, martial-art based exercises not only improve the physical condition, but in many cases have positive impact on the mental and emotional state. It simply feels good.”