Treat Hypertension with Traditional Chinese Exercises

What are traditional Chinese exercises?

Traditional Chinese exercises combine physical and mental techniques that feature breathing, body movements, breathing, and meditation. Examples include Tai Chi and Qigong, both of which have several versions. These exercises may be suitable for persons who can’t or won’t embrace more typical Western exercises such as jogging, running, or resistance training. You can be perform Tai Chi and Qigong in group sessions or singly.

Multiple benefits of Tai Chi

Australian researchers used data from 266 patients aged 45 years or older with hypertension in the Jiangsu and Changshu districts in China to determine if a traditional Chinese mind-body meditative Tai Chi program would improve health status over 12 months. The teacher-led Tai Chi program featured breathing, balancing, flexibility, concentration, calming, and stress reduction techniques for 3 hours per week, with an additional 2 hours per week of home-based practice. Participants in the control group attended non-exercise activities such as reading and learning computer software applications. Compared to the control group, participants in the Tai Chi program had significantly and clinically meaningful lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and body-mass index after 12 months. In addition, the Tai Chi group participants had less bodily pain, greater vitality and better overall physical health and kidney function. Tai Chi did not lead to significant improvements in aspects of the metabolic syndrome. Tai Chi proved to be effective in reducing blood pressure and hypertension in a sample of middle-aged and older Chinese participants.

Tai Chi beats brisk walking

Physical activity promotes lower blood pressure, which is a marker of cardiovascular health. Tai Chi is a safe and popular form of physical activity among older Chinese adults. Researchers in Hong Kong recruited 246 older patients with an average age of 64 years and with three or fewer cardiovascular risk factors from two governmental outpatient clinics to test whether a Tai Chi intervention would lead to lower blood pressure and better cardiovascular risk markers compared to a brisk walking intervention. The 24-form Yang -style Tai Chi intervention was led by a Tai Chi master during 1-hour, twice weekly sessions. Tai Chi participants were advised to practice Tai Chi at home for 30 minutes per day, at least 5 days per week. The brisk walking participants were instructed to walk at a pace of 3-3.6 mph for 30 minutes per day for at least 5 days per week. Brisk walkers were issued devices to measure heart rate to ensure a moderate level of exercise intensity. Both intervention groups engaged in the equivalent of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity for 3 months.

At the end of the interventions, Tai Chi participants reduced their systolic and diastolic blood pressure significantly more (-11.3 and -6.4 mm Hg, respectively) than the brisk walking participants. In addition, Tai Chi participants reduced their fasting blood sugar (-0.72 mmol/dL), HbA1c (-0.39 percent), perceived stress (-3.22 units), and improved mental health (+4.05 units), and exercise self-efficacy (+12.8 units) more than the brisk walking participants. For older adults in Hong Kong, Tai Chi improved cardiovascular health more than brisk walking did.

A systematic review and meta-analysis Tai Chi vs. usual care

Researchers in China conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials with 1,461 participants to determine if Tai Chi interventions would reduce blood pressure of participants with hypertension compared to usual care. The interventions ranged from 6-48 weeks and featured the 24-movement Yang-style Tai Chi as a well as simplified versions. Compared to usual care, Tai Chi interventions led to significantly greater improvements in systolic blood pressure. For interventions shorter than 12 weeks, only the 24-movement Yang-style Tai Chi showed significant reduction in systolic blood pressure compared to usual care. Compared to usual care, Tai Chi interventions led to significant improvements in diastolic blood pressure for interventions shorter or longer than 12 weeks. In addition, Tai Chi led to significant improvements in HDL-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and waist circumference. Tai Chi, especially the 24-movement Yang version, appears to improve systolic and diastolic blood pressure of hypertensive persons.

A more recent systematic review and meta-analysis

Higher levels of physical predict lower risk of hypertension by reducing systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Studies suggest that traditional Chinese exercises help patients with hypertension reduce their systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Researchers in China conduced a more recent systematic review and meta-analysis of 49 studies (nearly all randomized controlled trials) that included 4,207 patients with hypertension. Exercises occurred 5-7 times per week with durations of 30-60 minutes each. The types of traditional Chinese exercises included Tai Chi and 5 forms of Qigong.

Compared to the control groups, the traditional Chinese exercise groups had significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure after the trials ended. Compared to the control groups, traditional Chinese exercises groups as an adjunct to health education or as an adjunct to anti-hypertensive drug treatment also had significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Participants in the exercise groups did not report any adverse outcomes attributable to the exercises. The low quality of most of the included studies tempered the positive outcomes of traditional Chinese exercises in reducing blood pressure.

Tai Chi vs. aerobic exercise to lower blood pressure

Traditional Chinese exercises feature mind-body movements that promote balance and cardiorespiratory function. Recent studies show that Tai Chi interventions can reduce blood pressure. To extend this line inquiry, Chinese researchers recruited 342 patients with an average of 49 years with pre-hypertension in two hospitals in Beijing. Pre-hypertension reflects systolic blood pressure of 120-139 mm Hg and/or diastolic blood pressure of 80-89 mm Hg. Interventions with patients with pre-hypertension could prevent progression to hypertension and thereby reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Participants were randomized into two groups: Tai Chi and aerobic exercise. Tai Chi consisted of 24-form Yang-style, slow, purposeful movements as taught by instructors, while aerobic exercise included various types of movement, such as brisk walking, designed to increase heart rate. Both groups spent 4, 1-hour sessions (including 10 minutes warm-up and 10 minutes cool-down) each per week doing either Tai Chi or aerobic exercise. After 12 months and compared to baseline, the Tai Chi group reduced systolic blood pressure significantly more (-7.01 mm Hg vs. -2.40 mm Hg) than the aerobic exercise group.

After 12 months and compared to baseline, both 24-hour ambulatory systolic blood pressure and nighttime ambulatory systolic blood pressure declined significantly more (-2.16 mm Hg and -4.08 mm Hg) in the Tai Chi group compared to the aerobic exercise group. Tai Chi is an accessible form of exercise, which might prevent pre-hypertension and reduce long-term risk of cardiovascular disease, especially for older adults.

What to do

If you don’t like to exercise and if you don’t get much physical activity, consider Tai Chi or Qigong. You can probably find classes that teach these traditional Chinese exercises at your local YMCA or senior center. Getting more physical activity is especially important if you have high blood pressure, which greatly increases your risk of a heart attack.

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