Tai chi, the Chinese movement theory, also called meditation in movement, has been shown in various studies to have a beneficial effect on the heart and blood vessels. It therefore appears to be an excellent form of exercise for people with cardiovascular disease, not least because of the additional psychosocial effects.
Blood pressure reduction
Tai chi lowers blood pressure in mild hypertension as well as aerobic fitness training, but many people find it more pleasant to do; Tai chi also helps lower blood pressure after a heart attack. It is still unclear exactly how the drop in blood pressure comes about. Tai chi can normalize blood pressure in people with mild hypertension (high-normal blood pressure or stage I hypertension) and a sedentary lifestyle. After 12 weeks of tai chi practice for 3 hours per week, systolic blood pressure in 76 people decreased from an average of 142 to 127 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure from 87.5 to 78.5 mm Hg; in the control group, blood pressure remained the same. Blood pressure at rest and during exercise also decreased significantly in a group of older women from an average of 150/86 to 131/77 mm Hg at rest, and from 178/99 to 164/82 mm Hg during exercise.
Tai chi practice has been associated with a decrease in cholesterol levels in one study. In the test subjects, the total cholesterol level decreased significantly by 15.2 mg/dl and the HDL level increased significantly by 4.7 mg/dl after 12 weeks of tai chi practice.
Better peripheral (micro)circulation
Practicing tai chi by a group of men around 70 years old resulted in better blood circulation to the skin and a higher skin temperature compared to the control group, both during rest and exercise. Aging is associated with poorer vasodilation during exercise. Tai chi can improve peripheral blood flow during exercise, possibly by improving the production of vasodilatory nitric oxide (NO) by the vascular endothelium.
Increased heart rate variability
Various studies have shown that tai chi increases heart rate variability (HRV) in the elderly. Decreases in HRV are associated with a greater risk of mortality in people with heart failure.
Men (average age 57) who are recovering from a bypass operation benefit more from tai chi than from a standard rehabilitation program. Aerobic capacity improved by 10.3% in 12 months; brisk walking led to virtually no improvement.
People recovering from a stroke can also benefit from tai chi, partly because the exercises are good for balance and coordination, strengthen muscle tone and support cognitive processes.
Practicing tai chi probably provides elderly people with many health benefits, both on a preventive level (psychosocial functioning, physical condition, independence) and on a therapeutic level (cardiovascular diseases, stress, rheumatism, osteoarthritis, chronic diseases including multiple sclerosis and dementia).