In a review of studies, people who performed tai chi and similar exercises fared better than other people, on average, in reducing their blood pressure. (NIKKI KAHN/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Exercise and hearts
Tai chi and similar exercises may help people dealing with heart disease

THE QUESTION Exercising is key to living well with heart disease. When deciding what type of exercise to do, might traditional Chinese exercise that involves gentle movements, such as tai chi, be a heart-healthy option to consider?

THIS STUDY analyzed data from 35 studies, involving 2,294 adults with heart disease. They had been randomly assigned to groups that did Chinese exercise (most often tai chi, but also qigong and baduanjin) or to groups that did other exercise (such as aerobic, strengthening or endurance) or that did not change their activity level. Those who exercised usually did so several times a week for several months to a year.

Blood pressure levels, on average, dropped more among those practicing Chinese exercise than among the others. Reductions in overall levels of cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” type) and in triglyceride levels were more pronounced in people who had done Chinese exercise, and they showed greater improvement in quality of life and depression, based on standardized rating scales. Among groups doing the Chinese exercise, no improvement was found, on average, for heart rate, aerobic fitness or the participants’ assessment of their health overall.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease. About 12 percent of U.S. adults, or more than 27 million people, have some type of heart disease. The most common is coronary artery disease, which involves restricted blood flow to the heart and can lead to a heart attack. Besides medication and possibly medical procedures, treatment for heart disease — and prevention of it — includes various lifestyle factors, such as eating healthily, maintaining an appropriate weight, not smoking, keeping stress in check and being physically active.

CAVEATS There were variations in the studies in the type of exercise that participants did, how often they exercised and over what period of time. The study did not determine whether a particular type of Chinese exercise or a certain level of this exercise was more beneficial than others. Whether the results would be similar for people who do not have heart disease was not tested.

FIND THIS STUDY in the March 9 online issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association (jaha.ahajournals.org); click on “New Online.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT heart disease at heart.org (search for “cardiovascular disease”). Learn about exercise and heart disease at nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus (search for “active when you have heart disease”).