(Health Secrets Newsletter) Older people can improve their heart health by practicing Tai Chi according to a Hong Kong based study which showed that older people who take part in this form of exercise are likely to have better arterial compliance than those that do not.
Arterial compliance measures how well the bodyâ€™s arteries expand and contract when blood is pumped through them, and high arterial compliance is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke.
What Did The Study Show?
The study into the benefits of Tai Chi was conducted by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the University of Illinois, and was published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The aim of the study was to assess the impact of Tai Chi on arterial compliance, or elasticity, as this is a risk marker for heart disease.
It was a small study involving a group of 65 older people with an average age of around 78 years, living in Hong Kong. 29 of the participants were members of tai chi clubs and had practiced tai chi for at least one and a half hours per week over the previous three years. The other 36 participants did not practice tai chi but were all independent in their daily living and took part in physical activity such as organized walks or household work.
All participants had their body mass indexes(BMI) and blood pressure recorded, as well as their arterial compliance which was measured by ultrasound. The researchers also measured muscle strength in the participantsâ€™ knees to assess the impact of tai chi on muscle strength.
Overall the results of the study showed that the group that practiced tai chi had better arterial compliance than the group that did not. While this does not absolutely confirm they had healthier hearts, it does suggest that they are at a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. This group were also less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, with only 38% of the tai chi group suffering from high blood pressure compared with 61% of the control group.
The tai chi group were found to have greater eccentric muscle strength in their knees which indicates that tai chi is a good exercise for older people that want to build muscle strength. They were also found to have a lower BMI on average. A higher BMI is another known risk marker for various diseases.
For a long time Tai Chi has been thought to be a good exercise for older people to improve muscle strength, but this was the first study to link it with improved heart health. Dr William Tsang who led the research said,
â€œThis is the first study to investigate the possible effects of Tai Chi on arterial compliance by comparing older Tai Chi practitioners with non-practitioners similar in age and activity level. The improvement in arterial compliance could have resulted from a combination of aerobic training, stretching, mental concentration and calm meditation during Tai Chi movement.â€
Tai Chi, which is often known as tai chi chuan is a martial art developed in the 13th century which combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements. It has been shown to help people over 65 reduce stress, improve mobility and balance, and gain strength in their legs, as well as have the potential cardiovascular health benefits outlined in this study.