Tai Chi Improves Moods of Heart Failure Patients

Evidence indicates that exercise involving meditation may have some benefits for patients who suffer from heart conditions such as heart failure. This hypothesis has, however, not been proved in clinical studies. This study was conducted to see if an exercise form such as tai chi, along with supportive regular therapy, helps for a prolonged duration patients with heart failure. Results showed that, although there was no reversal of the disease process, there was an improvement in the patients’ perception regarding their quality of life, exercise capacity, and general mood.

Earlier it was believed that patients suffering from heart failure should not be permitted physical exercise. This belief persisted through the 1980s before new studies showed that regular moderate exercise can benefit patients with heart failure. Exercise modifies their disease, improves their quality of life and alleviates mental ailments like depression. Recent studies have shown that meditation-related physical exercises may help heart failure patients to a large extent. Tai chi, an ancient oriental exercise form, involves meditation as well as gentle balancing body movements and breathing techniques. Studies have shown that tai chi may help lower blood pressure and improve balance, mood, muscle diseases and exercise capacity. This study evaluated the effectiveness of tai chi in heart failure patients.


  • For this study, 100 heart failure patients with an average age of 67 years from different centers were chosen and involved in the study between 1st May 2005 and 30th September 2008.
  • Half of the participants (50) were included in a 12-week tai chi program involving one-hour group classes. The other half was given educational material regarding good health and exercise practices for the same duration. All patients also received standard heart failure care.
  • At the beginning and end of the training, all participants were assessed for how much exercise they could undertake (a measure of the heart health) and also how they perceived health, quality of life, mood etc.
  • Tests were done on participants’ blood samples, for measurement of catecholamines and inflammation factors. Another questionnaire asked about medications taken, and healthcare visits, accidents, falls and symptoms of illness.

Key findings

  • Results showed that at the end of the study there was no marked difference in capacity of exercise in the two patient groups.
  • However, those in the tai chi group reported a better perceived quality of life at the end of the study.
  • Patients in the tai chi group reported that perceived efficacy of the exercise was high and they had improved mood after the tai chi program.

Next steps/shortcomings
Authors write that patients in the education program group were aware that the other group was receiving tai chi classes and this could have affected their reports on quality of life at end of the study. However, researchers had tried to reduce this problem by promising those in the control group tai chi training at the end of the study. They also agree that the study sample was small. A larger sample could define the benefits of tai chi further. Also, the authors admit uncertainty regarding the mechanism by which tai chi benefits heart failure patients.

This study concludes that tai chi – a meditative form of physical exercise – is acceptable and effective in the improvement of daily quality of living, mood, and exercise efficacy in frail patients with heart failure. However, tai chi does not appear to change the disease process significantly. Further studies are needed to see how these findings can be applied to the general population in terms of effectiveness, cost, and feasibility. Further research is also necessary to see exactly how tai chi and its components of meditation, deep breathing, balance and aerobic exercises aid in benefiting patients with heart failure. This attempt would guide caregivers in improving the quality of life and mental health of heart failure patients.

For More Information:
Tai Chi Exercise in Patients with Chronic Heart Failure
Publication Journal: Archives of Internal Medicine, April 2011
By Gloria Y Yeh, MD; Ellen P McCarthy, PhD
From the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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