‘Tai chi-ing’ away depression caused by heart disease


Tai chi can help improve mental and physical well-being in those with chronic health conditions like heart disease and hypertension. — Filepic

Heart disease patients might be able to relieve symptoms of depression with sessions of tai chi, according to new American research.

Carried out by researchers at the University of Arizona, the new study analysed the findings of 15 clinical trials that included a total of 1,853 patients, to investigate the effect of tai chi on psychological well-being in adults with coronary heart disease, heart failure, hypertension (high blood pressure) and stroke.

The findings showed that practicing tai chi was linked with lower levels of psychological distress and depression, and a boost in both mood and quality of life, including mental health quality of life (e.g. how patients feel, their ability to go out and socialise) and physical health quality of life (walking, ability to do daily activities, etc).

Although there was no statistically significant link with anxiety, the researchers explain that this could be due to a smaller number of patients with anxiety being included, compared to those with depression.

Tai chi also didn’t appear to have a significant impact on quality of life in stroke survivors.

Study author Dr Ruth Taylor-Piliae explains that, “This is because there were very few studies on psychological well-being or quality of life variables in this group.

“There is a lot of research on tai chi in stroke survivors, but nearly all of them looked at physical function such as balance and gait.”

The findings are important as people with cardiovascular diseases live with the condition for the rest of their lives.

Many also experience psychological distress, which includes depression, anxiety and stress, with the researchers pointing out that depression affects around 20% of patients with coronary heart disease, 20% of patients with heart failure, 27% of those with hypertension and 35% of stroke survivors.

“If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, or are affected by another heart condition, I would strongly recommend adding tai chi to your recovery and rehabilitation,” she says.

“There are physical benefits like improved balance, and it’s good for mental health too.”

Tai chi combines a series of set movements with relaxation and breathing, and is considered to be a mind-body exercise because it requires concentration on posture, relaxation and breathing.

“Tai chi is well suited for people of any age or exercise ability, and can be safely adapted for anybody,” she says.

“People with low tolerance to exercise or breathing problems can do it in a chair.

“Group classes for others with cardiovascular disease are a positive place for social support and camaraderie – there is no judgement; you just do what you can.”

Previous research has also shown that tai chi may be effective in easing symptoms of fibromyalgia, and relieving insomnia, fatigue and depression for breast cancer survivors.

Through helping older adults stay active, it could help improve cognition.

This study was published on June 9 (2020) in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, a journal of the European Society of Cardiology. – AFP Relaxnews

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