A new study from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University suggests that Tai Chi may be a suitable exercise to improve both cardiovascular function and body strength.
Experienced practitioners of Tai Chi, the traditional Chinese mind-body exercise were shown in a study of older subjects to have improved expansion and contraction of arteries according to cardiac pulsation (arterial compliance) and improved knee muscle strength.
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As background to their report, the investigators explain that arterial stiffness – when an artery fails to distend or rebound in response to pressure changes – is closely associated with cardiovascular diseases, possibly through elevated blood and pulse pressure and atherosclerosis. Arterial compliance, therefore, has been identified as an important predictor of cardiovascular health in the elderly and a therapeutic target for physical exercise in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, involved 65 elderly subjects from Hong Kong, 29 recruited from local Tai Chi clubs who had each practiced Tai Chi for at least 1.5 hours a week for three years, and 36 controls with no Tai Chi experience. All subjects’ physical activity levels were defined according to metabolic index units as light, moderate and heavy – but there were no differences between the two groups.
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Initial results showed that the Tai Chi subjects were better in almost all haemodynamic observations – including blood pressure, vascular resistance, and pulse pressure. Measurements also showed that both large and small artery compliance was significantly higher in the Tai Chi group (by 40-44%). Additional analysis showed that the Tai Chi subjects had greater average muscle strength in both their knee extensors and flexors.
Tai Chi is well known for its aerobic affects. Significant improvement in cardiopulmonary function has been found in Tai Chi practitioners when compared with sedentary controls, and Tai Chi training has been shown to improve cardiopulmonary function in patients with chronic heart failure and myocardial infarction. The effect of Tai Chi training in lowering blood pressure has also been extensively reviewed.
The study findings showed that older Tai Chi practitioners have better arterial compliance and knee muscle strength than their healthy counterparts. And, because Tai Chi can be practiced at anytime, anywhere, and without the constraints of equipment or a gymnasium, Dr. Tsang added that this traditional Chinese exercise could be a good exercise strategy for older adults, both for vascular health and for muscle strengthening.
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European Journal of Preventive Cardiology April 4, 2012 , “Tai Chi, arterial compliance, and muscle strength in older adults” Xi Lu, Christina WY Hui-Chan, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China, University of Illinois