Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. After a heart attack, many patients’ hearts do not function at their peak capacity. Specifically, they present with decreased peak oxygen capacity. A pilot study examined patients’ functional capacity after having a heart attack and practicing Tai Chi as part of their rehabilitation. The study found significant improvements in their peak oxygen capacity.
The medical term for most heart attacks is a “myocardial infarction,” also known as an MI. The heart requires oxygen to survive, and if it is deprived of oxygen its tissues begin to die. Mycoardial infarction actually literally means, “death of heart muscle.”A study followed patients after a non-complicated MI to monitor their recovery. All patients had to undergo cardiopulmonary exercise testing and blood tests in a lab. This took place between the 14th and 21st days after they were discharged from the hospital. One group (the control) participated in full-body stretching exercises three times a week for 12 weeks. The Tai Chi group performed Tai Chi three times a week for 12 weeks.
The participants in the Tai Chi group showed a 14% increase in peak oxygen levels compared to the control group who showed a 5% decline. This is a statistically significant difference between the two groups. The researchers concluded that while additional studies were necessary, this study showed that Tai Chi may be a great choice for rehabilitation after an MI. Dr. Ricardo Stein from the study pointed out that Tai Chi would be a great rehabilitation choice for MI patients because not all of them have access to traditional cardiovascular rehabilitation programs and facilities. Additionally, he noted that it is less expensive because it does not require any equipment and can be done anywhere. However, he cautioned that future studies would be necessary to determine if Tai Chi rehab can be done by an unsupervised patient after an MI.
We know that Tai Chi reduces risk factors for heart disease such as obesity and high blood pressure but we continue to find out more and more about how Tai Chi can actually affect your heart and blood. Talk to your cardiologist to find out if Tai Chi is appropriate for your recovery.