New US research has found that heart disease patients might be able to relieve symptoms of depression with sessions of tai chi.
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 and stroke.
The findings showed that practising 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 (for example, how patients feel, their ability to go out and socialise) and physical health quality of life (walking, ability to do daily activities and so on).
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 than 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 explained: “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 high blood pressure 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,” said Taylor-Piliae. “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,” said Taylor-Piliae.
“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.