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Tai chi benefits patients with lung disease

14th August 2012

Researchers in Australia say that tai chi, a slow-moving Chinese martial art often likened to a form of "moving meditation," can improve the endurance of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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The graceful exercise can boost people's endurance, balance and quality of life, according to researchers who studied the effects of Sun-style tai chi on elderly COPD patients.

The study involved 42 people with COPD, who had an average age of 72. Sun-style tai chi was chosen as a more appropriate form for elderly people because of the relative absence of deep knee-bends or single-leg postures.

They found that a group who were trained in the practice of this form of tai chi could walk further and reported better quality of life after 12 weeks than a control group that undertook no exercise.

According to researcher Regina Wai Man Leung of Concord Repatriation General Hospital and the University of Sydney, the results would mean more fitness choices for people with COPD.

Leung, a cardio-respiratory physiotherapist, said in a news release that increasing numbers of people were being diagnosed with COPD.

All of them would need tailored exercise programmes selected from a number of options, she said.

The control group in the study received what is currently standard rehabilitation treatment for COPD patients, while the other half attended twice-weekly, hour-long sessions of a modified version of Sun-style tai chi.

The Sun-style set of movements consisted of 21 exercises, or forms, as well as controlled breathing throughout.

The participants also practiced tai chi at home for 30 minutes on days when there was no taught session available.

The researchers chose the Sun-style tai chi exercises because the movements were easier to complete, and were better suited to older people.

The participants were tested in a number of ways before and after the study, to measure how far they could walk, and for how long, without experiencing breathlessness.

Their muscle strength, balance and overall physical performance was also measured. Participants were also assessed for any symptoms of anxiety or depression, and asked to rate their own quality of life.

The group that practised tai chi showed significant benefits on all measures compared with the control group, including increased muscle strength and better balance.

In particular, they could walk an average of 60 yards further and for nearly three minutes longer than the group that did not do tai chi.

Quad strength and balance are important measures for COPD patients, as it makes them less vulnerable to falls. Tai chi had apparently outperformed conventional pulmonary rehabilitation, the researchers wrote in the online edition of the European Respiratory Journal.

The tai chi group also reported lower levels of anxiety and higher quality of life ratings than the control group.

The researchers said they had found compelling evidence that tai chi training achieved an appropriate training intensity could offer an effective alternative training modality in people with COPD.

COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is mostly caused by smoking, and is currently the third leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly 125,000 deaths in 2007.


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