Are you worried about your blood pressure and cholesterol? Tai Chi or Qigong may help. These and other types of traditional Chinese exercise appear to boost the health and well-being of people with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or stroke, says research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Different forms of Chinese exercise have been gaining popularity around the world.
One of the best-known, Tai Chi, is recommended by Harvard Medical Center's Women's Health Watch for anyone, of any age, including those in a wheelchair. Benefits include helping people to maintain strength, flexibility and balance.
Stemming from ancient Chinese martial arts, Tai Chi combines gentle physical activity with elements of meditation, body awareness, imagery and attention to breathing.
"Qi," pronounced "chi," refers to an energy force that, according to Chinese philosophy, flows through the body. Tai Chi and Qigong aim to unblock and encourage the flow of qi.
Nevertheless, insists Health Watch, to enjoy the benefits of Chinese exercise, participants do not need to subscribe to its beliefs; just go with the flow.
Some studies have found benefits for patients with cardiovascular disease who practice this type of exercise, especially on blood pressure and exercise capacity. However, the extent of the improvement has not been confirmed.
Drop in blood pressure, LDL and triglycerides
Chen Pei-Jie, PhD, the study's lead author and president of Shanghai University of Sport in China, and his team reviewed 35 studies, including 2,249 participants from 10 countries.
The studies in their meta-analysis randomly assigned participants to groups according to whether they performed traditional Chinese exercises, such as Tai Chi, Qigong and Baduanjin, engaged in other types of exercise or did not change their level of activity.
Participation in Chinese exercises decreased the average systolic blood pressure level by more than 9.12 mmHg and the diastolic blood pressure by over 5 mmHg. Small but statistically significant reductions occurred in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as "bad cholesterol" and in triglycerides.
Patients reported more satisfaction with their quality of life and lower levels of depression.
There was no change in heart rate, aerobic fitness level and scores on a general health questionnaire.
Co-author Yu Liu, PhD, dean of the School of Kinesiology at Shanghai University of Sport in China, says:
"Traditional Chinese exercises are a low-risk, promising intervention that could be helpful in improving quality of life in patients with cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of disability and death in the world."
Limitations include the fact that inclusion criteria varied across studies, participants were only followed for a maximum of 1 year, and that the term "traditional Chinese exercise" covers a wide range of activities.
The team has been investigating the benefits of traditional Chinese exercise on a variety of diseases for over 5 years. The authors hope to carry out new, randomized controlled trials into the effects of different types of traditional Chinese exercises on chronic conditions.
They also call for more scientific evidence to establish the precise physical and psychological benefits of this type of exercise.
Medical News Today has previously reported that Tai Chi may reduce inflammation in cancer survivors.