The ancient Chinese meditative exercise of Tai Chi appears to improve the quality of life, mood and exercise self-efficacy for people suffering from chronic heart failure, according to a new study.

Scientists at Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre found that while Tai Chi offered no significant physical differences in patients who performed a 6-minute walk, those who engaged in the ‘mind/body’ exercise exhibited significant improvements in standardized tests that track the mood of patients with chronic heart failure.

“Tai Chi appears to be a safe alternative to low-to-moderate intensity conventional exercise training in patients with HF,” said Gloria Yeh, a physician in Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at BIDMC and an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Research and Education in Complimentary and Integrative Medical Therapies at Harvard Medical School.

“Tai Chi is safe and has a good rate of adherence and may provide value in improving daily exercise, quality of life, self-efficacy and mood in frail, deconditioned patients with systolic heart failure,” she added.

The researchers followed 100 patients from ambulatory clinics at BIDMC, Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. The patients who used Tai Chi were contrasted with a control group that received only heart education training.

Although the changes in peak oxygen uptake and 6-minute walks were similar in the Tai Chi and education-only group, the researchers found a significant increase in calories burned per week in moderate-intensity outside activities. They also observed significant improvements in the Minnesota Living with Heart Failure Questionnaire and Profile of Mood States tool used to assess emotional states that are expected to respond to clinical intervention.

“Tai Chi offers a complement to standard medical care, despite the absence of differential improvement in some physical benchmarks,” said Yeh. “Because chronic heart failure is a progressive and debilitating condition, the independent importance of beneficially affecting patient-perceived quality of life is increasingly appreciated. Improvement of mood in this population is highly relevant,” she added.

The study appears in the current edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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