According to new research from University of Arizona College of Nursing Associate Professor Ruth Taylor-Piliae, PhD, RN, FAHA, tai chi can be beneficial to the psychological well-being for adults suffering from cardiovascular disease. Published this month in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, Dr. Taylor-Piliae’s review and meta-analysis of more than a dozen studies on the topic found that the exercise eased stress, anxiety, depression and psychological distress for those who practiced it.
Tai chi is a mind-body exercise that emphasizes concentration on posture, relaxation and breathing, using a soothing series of set movements. Dr. Taylor-Piliae’s previous research involving tai chi was aimed at improving physical functioning, reducing fall rates and improving quality of life for older adults. She garnered evidence that participants in a tai chi group had significantly fewer falls after the intervention. She has long been a proponent of increasing physical activity among older adults with heart disease and stroke through the implementation of innovative mind-body interventions, which spurred her interest in the topic of tai chi for people with cardiovascular disease.
"As a holistic mind-body exercise, tai chi leads to improvements in both physical ability and psychological well-being. This is important for adults with cardiovascular disease, since better psychological well-being is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular-related mortality," ~ Ruth Taylor-Piliae, PhD, RN, FAHA
“Tai Chi is generally considered a safe, low-impact, moderate-intensity exercise, making it a feasible option for adults with cardiovascular disease, including those with low exercise tolerance,” Dr. Taylor-Piliae says. “As a holistic mind-body exercise, tai chi leads to improvements in both physical ability and psychological well-being. This is important for adults with cardiovascular disease, since better psychological well-being is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular-related mortality.”
Cardiovascular diseases are lifelong chronic illnesses. Many patients experience unpleasant feelings or emotions – including depression, anxiety and stress – that affect their ability to live life to the fullest. Depressive symptoms, for instance, affect approximately 20% of patients with coronary heart disease, 20% of patients with heart failure, 27% of those with high blood pressure, and more than one-third (35%) of stroke survivors.
Studies of this activity in patients with cardiovascular disease have generally been small. However, Dr. Taylor-Piliae’s is the first to combine analysis of clinical trials from the past decade examining the effect of tai chi on psychological wellbeing in adults with coronary heart disease, heart failure, hypertension, and stroke. A total of 1,853 patients from 15 clinical trials were included in the analysis.
Dr. Taylor-Piliae found that tai chi was linked with less psychological distress as a whole. It was also associated with a reduction in depression. Patients with cardiovascular disease often have poor quality of life due to unpleasant symptoms, such as shortness of breath, or disability. The study found that tai chi was also associated with better quality of life, both mentally and physically.
More research is needed on how this mind-body activity exerts its mental health benefits. But Dr. Taylor-Piliae posits that the synergy between postures and breathing during tai chi exercise has a marked effect on enhanced mood. Her conclusion is that tai chi is ideal for people of any age or exercise ability and can be safely adapted for anybody, since people with low tolerance to exercise or breathing problems can practice it in a chair.