Suffering a heart attack is not only a scary experience but also a life-changing one. If you are one of the lucky few who survive a heart attack, your life moving forward will be geared toward improving your heart hearth though cardiac rehab.
Sadly, there are some who find cardiac rehab too difficult. But according to a new study, the traditional Chinese martial art Tai chi may be a suitable alternative.
Importance of cardiac rehabilitation
Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised program designed to improve the cardiovascular health of those who have suffered a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery. It emphasizes three important parts:
- Exercise counseling and training, which is a way to get the body moving that promotes heart health.
- Education for heart-healthy living, which involves managing risk factors, eating a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, and learning other information about living heart
- Counseling to reduce stress, which focuses on identifying and reducing potential areas of stress that affect the heart in negative ways.
While cardiac rehabilitation is beneficial, many people do not have the means to continue such a program. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of patients decline to participate in these programs due to financial concerns, distance to a rehab center, or the perception that physical exercise is unpleasant, painful, or impossible for them to do.
This is where Tai chi comes into play. It is an ancient martial art that is practiced for both its defense training and also its health benefits. It encompasses slow graceful movements, often described as meditation in motion. Movements are slow, focused, and accompanied by deep breathing.
Using slow movements to improve fitness
This particular study wanted to explore the application of Tai chi for the improvement of exercise behaviors in high-risk cardiac patients.
“We thought that Tai chi might be a good option for these people because you can start very slowly and simply and, as their confidence increases, the pace and movements can be modified to increase intensity. Tai chi exercise can reach low-to-moderate intensity levels. The emphasis on breathing and relaxation can also help with stress reduction and psychological distress.” said Elena Salmoirago-Blotcher, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University.
The study in question involved 29 physically inactive heart disease patients, the majority of which had experienced a previous heart attack and still continued to carry out many high-risk characteristics. The average age of participants who expressed interest was 67.9 years old.
The researchers found that Tai chi is a safe exercise, highly enjoyable, and increased participant’s weekly amount of moderate to vigorous physical exercise after three to six months of participation.
While researchers admit that Tai chi can’t replace important components of traditional cardiac rehabilitation like education and risk factor reduction, it can serve as an effective exercise option.