How Tai Chi Can Help With This Common Complication of Diabetes

Patient Expert

The ancient Chinese exercise of tai chi can minimize your risk of heart problems, the most common and serious complication of diabetes, according to a meta-analysis of 35 randomized clinical trials. Published in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study shows that tai chi and other traditional Chinese exercises like qigong can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels, boost quality of life, and reduce depression of people living with heart disease.

The improvements in blood pressure and lipid levels were statistically significant. People in the studies reported more satisfaction with their quality of life and lower levels of depression by adding tai chi into their routine.

The full text of this new meta-analysis is free online at “Traditional Chinese Exercise for Cardiovascular Diseases.” The 10 co-authors are from China’s Shanghai University of Sport and other Chinese universities and hospitals.

Low risk exercise

Seemingly simple and deceptively gentle, this ancient exercise brings heart health benefits as shown by these studies and other health benefits with little chance of damage. Because of the low impact nature of tai chi, this Chinese exercise is gaining popularity in the United States and throughout the Western world.

Tai chi is a series of slow, flowing motions and deep, slow breathing to exercise the body and to calm the mind. You gradually move from one pose to another, shifting your weight and extending your limbs to challenge your balance. It looks like a graceful dance, and you can practice it anywhere.

You can do tai chi while you are walking, standing, or even sitting, so people at all levels of fitness can do it. Anyone, no matter their age and even those who use wheelchairs, can do it.

Many health benefits from tai chi

Earlier studies had demonstrated that tai chi can help people with several different conditions. Five years ago, I wrote that tai chi can cut our risk of falls by improving our balance. Harvard University’s health publications recommend tai chi for a variety of medical conditions, anything from balance and Parkinson’s disease to arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain.

How best to learn tai chi

The best way to learn tai chi is probably to take a class at a senior or community center, health club, or hospital. I learned it in the 1970s as part of a training I was taking, and after moving to Colorado in 2004, I continued to practice tai chi at my city’s senior center. Now, I do it at no cost  through the SilverSneakers Fitness program at my local YMCA. Around the country SilverSneakers is available at more than 13,000 places through more than 65 Medicare health insurance plans, usually at no cost.

Perhaps the exercise motto, “no pain, no gain” has met its match in tai chi. Tai chi is painless, and doing it can give you big gains.

See more of my articles on how to manage diabetes: Doing Tai Chi for Balance
How You Can Reduce Your Risk of Heart Attacks
Standing Helps Heart Health