The connection between the mind and body is a frequent subject in modern scientific study. Now researchers have concluded that an ancient Chinese exercise, based on mind-body techniques, is proving beneficial to heart patients.
They arrive, looking like ancient warriors, advancing slowly in the auditorium of a senior center in Wheaton, Maryland.
Their movements are based on the traditional Chinese exercise called Tai Chi: flowing and circular motions, balancing sometimes on one leg, always breathing deeply. The goal of these 100 or so movements is to achieve a state of physical and mental relaxation.
The origins of Tai Chi go back at least 2,000 years. While it looks like gentle exercise, it was developed in China as a martial art. Legend has it that a Chinese monk created the technique by watching a deadly dance between a snake and a crane.
“Lean forward, White Crane, spread the wings,” explains instructor Fred Nee. The poses may sound romantic, but researchers have found that Tai Chi helps patients with chronic heart failure improve their quality of life, enhance their mood and it gives them confidence to try other forms of physical activity.
The researchers studied 100 patients with chronic heart failure. 50 were assigned to a Tai Chi class, like this one, twice a week for three months. The other 50 went to an educational class about heart health.
Dr. Gloria Yeh of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston co-authored the study. “We know that chronic heart failure is this progressive chronic syndrome. There is no cure. And patients often suffer over time with their symptoms: a decrease in exercise tolerance, a shortness of breath and a decrease in quality of life because of this, and so, if we can make patients feel better overall and increase their well-being, this is a significant impact,” she explains.
The elderly students in this particular class did not participate in the study, but they support the notion that Tai Chi helps them feel better.
The study found no differences between the two groups when they each took a six minute walk, but those enrolled in Tai Chi used up more calories when they participated in additional physical activity.
Previous studies have also shown that Tai Chi helps reduce symptoms of other ailments, such as high blood pressure, fibromyalgia and stress.