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The Benefits of Tai Chi for Heart Health

An active senior practices Tai Chi in a park

A recent study found that tai chi is equally or more effective than aerobic exercise for lowering blood pressure.

“The mechanism for how tai chi improves blood pressure is still somewhat unknown,” says Bradley Lander, MD, University Hospitals Sports Cardiology Center Director. “One hypothesis is it reduces the fight-or-flight response in the nervous system and activates the body’s relaxation response.”

What Is Tai Chi?

Tai chi originated in China as a martial art known for combining gentle movements with meditation. The practice strengthens the body, relaxes the mind, and has a number of physical and mental benefits when practiced regularly.

“There are a few heart benefits that tai chi can provide,” says Dr Lander. “Some studies have shown that tai chi improves blood sugar and cholesterol control. By providing a form of meditation and relaxation, tai chi can also benefit the heart by reducing stress.”

Some smaller studies have suggested that tai chi can help increase in the level of nitric oxide, which also plays a key role in reducing blood pressure.

Connecting Body and Mind

Tai chi focuses on strength, alignment and flexibility through movement. And though it may not seem like much muscle strength is required, the slow movement requires skill, balance and engages many muscles.

“Tai chi is a practice that brings together the body and the mind,” says Amy Sapola, Pharm.D., FAIHM, a University Hospitals clinical pharmacist and yoga instructor. “There are a lot of benefits when you look at the effect on depression, anxiety and cognitive function.”

Shifting the nervous system into a relaxing state improves emotional regulation and eases stress. Reducing anxiety can improve a person’s energy, quality of life, memory and cognitive function. Tai chi also reduces neuroinflammation.

“Tai chi offers unique benefits for depression and anxiety sufferers, because it doesn’t have the side effects and risks of prescription medications,” says Dr. Sapola.

Other Health Benefits

Tai chi is good for more than just heart health and mood. Dr. Sapola shares the evidence behind tai chi for other health conditions.

Strong evidence

  • Preventing falls in older adults
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Cognitive function

Moderate evidence

  • Depression
  • Cardiac rehabilitation
  • Stroke rehabilitation
  • Dementia

Some evidence

  • Quality of life in cancer patients
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoporosis

Getting Started

There’s no hard and fast rule for how much tai chi is needed to benefit from the practice. Experts recommend starting with two to four times per week, for 60 minutes each session.

“It’s not something that you just learn from YouTube in a day,” says Dr. Sapola. “It’s something that really takes dedication and practice, just like other forms of martial arts.”

Related Links

The experts at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute have the advanced training and experience to diagnose and treat all types of cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension. Our expertise ranges from the management of chronic diseases to the most complex open heart surgical procedures – and everything in between.