It’s no secret that regular exercise, like brisk walking, is good for the heart. But growing evidence shows that traditional Chinese exercise may also benefit heart disease patients, both physically and mentally.
Traditional Chinese exercise includes a number of practices that combine slow movement, breathing techniques, and meditation. Tai chi and qigong (pronounced “chee-gung”) are among the forms commonly practiced in the United States.
A number of studies have suggested the practices improve heart health, but those studies have generally been too small to draw firm conclusions.
To address that, researchers analyzed the results of 35 studies that included more than 2,200 people with heart disease. Most tested the short-term effects (up to one year) of either tai chi or qigong classes. The analysis was published in March 2016 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
On average, the practices reduced diastolic blood pressure by more than 5 points and systolic blood pressure by more than 9 points, improved walking ability, and eased depression symptoms, the analysis found. Many participants also said their day-to-day functioning and quality of life had improved.
Tai chi and qigong are not as exotic as they sound. Many communities have classes available. If you’re interested, check with your local senior center, hospital, or YMCA. As always, make sure you have your doctor’s OK to do this type of exercise.
Amy Norton has been a medical journalist since 1999. She was a staff writer and editor for Physician’s Weekly and Reuters Health, and has written on health and medicine for MSNBC, The Scientist, Prevention and HealthDay. When she’s not writing, she is teaching yoga.