Strokes are no longer the third leading cause of death in the United States. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) usurped that position. Over 24 million Americans are living with COPD. In fact, it is believed that there are many more who don’t even know they have COPD! COPD is most often diagnosed in middle-aged and older adults. The term COPD encompasses emphysema, refractory asthma and chronic bronchitis. Apart from problems with breathing, COPD patients also often have problems with balance and strength in their lower limbs, making them more likely to fall. There is no cure for COPD but there are lifestyle changes that help alleviate its symptoms and slow its progress. Tai Chi is one of the ways to make a difference in your life if you are suffering from COPD.
COPD may be a result of smoking, exposure to air pollutants and/or genetic predisposition. The most common symptom is increased breathlessness. Many older adults assume that the breathlessness is just a consequence of getting older. Also, early on in the disease, the symptoms may be unnoticeable. Other symptoms include coughing (including a dry cough), tightness in the chest and wheezing.
Researchers in a randomized COPD and Tai Chi trial split participants into three groups. One group practiced Tai Chi while the second group walked for an hour a day and was also instructed on breathing techniques. The third group (the control) was not given any exercise or breathing instruction. Both the second and third groups were invited to weekly social events. The Tai Chi group practiced 13 movements which emphasized, “lung expansion, upper body range of motion, and coordination specifically tailored for COPD patients.” They were also given a DVD to take home and practice Tai Chi and were instructed to keep a journal.
The Tai Chi group had a significantly lower rate of exacerbation or worsening symptoms after six months than those in the two other groups. The Tai Chi participants also showed an increased capacity to exercise (greater endurance), stronger lower limbs, improved balance and also had improved air volume and flow rate in their lungs (spirometry). Additionally, the Tai Chi group was able to walk longer distances and reported a higher quality of life. Also, they were more likely to stick to the lifestyle change — 74% of them continued to practice Tai Chi. Therefore, if you are suffering from COPD, consider trying Tai Chi to alleviate the symptoms.