A new study found the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi was more effective in reducing high blood pressure than other forms of exercise such as brisk walking or stair climbing.
Chinese scientists compared two groups of participants with high blood pressure over one year—one practicing Tai Chi and the other performing aerobic exercise.
The authors of the study, published in the JAMA Network Open journal, say their results should encourage health advisors to promote the gentle martial art in preventing heart disease in those with hypertension.
Researchers from the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences took 342 participants with prehypertension–blood pressure that’s slightly higher than normal–and split them into two groups.
Half the participants (average age 49) performed Tai Chi, the Chinese martial art practiced for self-defense and health, during four supervised sessions every week for one year.
The traditional mind-body exercise guides individuals to concentrate on very slow and fluid movements that can benefit an individual’s balance, breathing, and heart function. (Watch a beginning lesson below…) Previous studies have also shown its benefits in reducing blood pressure.
The other half of participants performed aerobic exercise including climbing stairs, jogging, brisk walking, and cycling four times a week during the same time frame.
Researchers measured the systolic blood pressure (SBP) of participants at six months and at the end of the study. At both stages, they found significant differences in the blood pressure of the two groups.
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Each participant had blood pressure readings of between 120 and 139 at the beginning of the study.
At 12 months, the average blood pressure of the Tai Chi group fell by 7.1 points, whereas the aerobic groups’ fell by just 4.61. Similar results were also observed after six months.
Both the blood pressure readings taken during the day and those taken while sleeping at night were each found to be significantly reduced in the Tai Chi group compared with their aerobic exercising counterparts.
Dr. Yanwei Xing, a lead author of the study, said the results showed definite benefits of practicing Tai Chi for reducing blood pressure.
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“Twelve months of Tai Chi are superior to aerobic exercise for reducing blood pressure load in patients with prehypertension—which would be more beneficial in reducing the risk of hypertension.”
Dr. Xing suggested public health bodies should promote Tai Chi as a method of preventing heart disease, especially because it is suitable for people of all ages and physical conditions to practice. Particularly beneficial for seniors, Tai Chi can help improve body flexibility and balance, which reduces the risk of falls in older adults.
“From the perspective of implementation, a Tai Chi program proves to be a safe, moderate-intensity, mind-body exercise that is easy to practice in community settings.”
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