Lovingly called “meditation in motion” by those who regularly practice it, the noncompetitive martial art of Tai Chi is now being validated as an effective and alternative rehabilitation treatment for heart attack patients. Tai Chi is comprised of a series of gentle physical movements that can be increased in pace over time. Already it has been found efficient in alleviating symptoms of depression as well as lowering back pain among the elderly. The new study, conducted by a team from the American Heart Association, concluded that the slow movements of Tai Chi could help those who refuse traditional cardiac rehabilitation.
As explained by lead author Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, M.D., Ph.D. on Science Daily, “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.”
It is estimated that around 60 percent of heart attack patients refuse conventional cardiac rehabilitation programs. Doctors have taken note of the various reasons for this, but say that a prevailing factor in the non-acceptance is that most patients believe rehab to be uncomfortable, expensive, and physically taxing.
The team thought that Tai Chi might be a better option. To test this, they recruited 29 physically inactive heart disease patients (21 men and eight women with an average age of 68) and randomly split the participants into two. One group adopted the LITE program which featured a crash-course on the exercise with 24 classes over 12 weeks. The other followed the PLUS program, which is a longer system composed of 52 classes over 24 weeks. All participants followed the Tai Chi stretches explained to them on a DVD.
Other than minor muscular pain noted at the start of either program, all participants reported feeling physically better and more emotionally stable after completing their Tai Chi program. Moreover, more than two-thirds of participants became more confident in their ability to move and raised their weekly amount of light to moderate physical activity over time.
However, the researchers were quick to mention that Tai Chi should not take the place of traditional cardiac rehabilitation. Complete programs not only include helping patients become more physically active but have thorough educational programs on diet and lifestyle habits as well as training sessions on how to deal with a weaker heart. Tai Chi does not provide for this. Nonetheless, the exercise can be used by cardiologists as a supplement to an overall treatment plan.
I move to the grace of the wind, my hand sweeps over the passages of time
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese technique that has its basis in martial arts. There is a misconception that anything related to martial arts must be aggressive in nature. Those who practice any fighting technique — particularly those made centuries ago — understand that the underlying philosophy of these movements is peace and enlightenment. Warriors and monks used to train and go through these physical movements to clear their mind and establish discipline. The ultimate goal of martial arts was not to create a “fighting machine” but a master who was very self-aware — and who could defend himself against any attackers.
Over the course of time, Tai Chi has now just become an easy set of exercises anyone can do. The intention, nevertheless, remains the same. While these stretches seem easy at first, it requires focus and discipline to fully attain its health benefits. This is why many people claim it enhances their mood.