Patients with heart failure cannot perform the physical exercise their body needs. Luckily, there are alternative forms of exercise which are low-intensity that cater not only to the patient’s physical needs but also to his/her psychological and spiritual needs.
There was a time when oriental forms of exercise such as yoga and tai chi were only for the few enlightened free thinkers. But nowadays, these practices have become mainstream and are actually well-accepted in the medical field and are even subjects of medical research.
In a recent study, researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston report that patients who took part in tai chi classes shoed significant improvements in quality of ilfe outcomes. In addition, the patients also gained enough confidence and initiative to try other higher intensity forms of physical exercise. In terms of clinical outcomes, practicing tai chi did not bring about improvements that were considered statistically significant but the trend for improvement is there.
According to study author Dr Gloria Yeh:
“There’s a bit of a disconnect between our finding improvements in quality of life, mood, perception of being able to do more, and feeling better, vs [no significant improvement in] exercise performance measured by six-minute walk or [peak VO2] on a bicycle exercise test… But having said that, we did see some change in six-minute-walk distance. It didn’t reach significance between the two groups, but there was actually a 35-m improvement in the tai chi group over the 12 weeks of the study. So something did happen. And our other measures said they at least perceived that they were doing more.”
But what is tai chi?
Tai chi is a Chinese form of martial arts that has been practiced in China for thousands of years. Although it is basically a “combat exercise”, it has its roots in ancient oriental philosophy, especially the principle of yin and yang. Of course tai chi as practiced in modern times especially in the Western world may not be as it used to be. Anybody who has been to Asia and saw how many people, sometimes up to hundreds, perform the tai chi movements en masse would know how fascinating this form of exercise is.
In a recent trip to Southeast Asia with a short stopover in China, I travelled with a group of middle-aged and elderly Chinese tourists. Somewhere along the way, several got up and performed tai chi movements in the aisles of the jumbo jet. They were such a sight to see, so graceful in such a cramped space.
Dr. Yeh said that although the benefits of tai chi could not be measured in terms of lab tests and other conventional measures of treatment efficacy, the benefits are there – in terms of improvement in quality of life and mood disturbances. Thus, tai chi and other similar forms of exercise shouldn’t be simply taken for granted or even dismissed.