Tai-Chi, Qigong, Yoga, and Your Heart

Robert Walker, Program Director at ‘Ekahi Ornish Lifestyle Medicine
Photo: People Doing Tai Chi in the Park

Tai-Chi, Qigong, and yoga are all ancient approaches to improving our general health and well-being, each dating back thousands of years. They’ve permeated nearly every aspect of Chinese and Indian society: Tai-Chi and Qigong within the fields of traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts, Yoga within India as an integral meditative practice within Hinduism and Buddhism.

Today, they’re touted as novel approaches to combating heart disease and other chronic conditions. But in the fields of modern medicine – where new breakthroughs seem to occur on an almost daily basis – what exactly can we learn from thousand year old practices?

As it turns out, it’s a combination of factors that cause these practices to be so effective as a means of improving our heart health. The deep breathing and mental focus that we derive from these exercises helps us cope with emotional stress, stopping the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which narrow our arteries and increase our blood pressure. The gentle movements are relaxing for those who have recently experienced a heart event – yet have been shown to be as beneficial as conventional exercises such as brisk walking. In a study published in the Harvard Heart Letter, participants who practiced regular yoga lost an average of five pounds, shaved five points off their blood pressure, and lowered their levels of harmful LDL cholesterol by 12 points.

And while yoga, Tai-Chi, and Qiqong are not intended to be replacements for regular, moderate aerobic activity, many cardiologists have started to recommend these exercises for patients recovering from heart surgery. The American Heart Association also recommends yoga as a means of lowering blood pressure, increasing lung capacity, improving respiratory function, and boosting circulation and muscle tone.

Another study conducted at Brown University’s Warren Alpert School of Medicine and Public Health examined the use of Tai-Chi as a means to encourage typically inactive individuals to exercise. 29 men and women who recently had a heart attack were randomly assigned to two groups. After three months, they discovered that patients in the group practicing Tai-Chi more frequently were also doing physical activity outside of their sessions – such as riding their bikes or climbing up and down stairs.

If you’re concerned about your risk for heart disease and other chronic conditions, and haven’t found the exercise plan that works for you, why not give Tai-Chi, Qigong, and Yoga a try? You might be surprised to find that these simple, gentle practices have surprising benefits for your heart, and for your health.

‘Ekahi Health, a member of the ‘ike family of companies (www.ikehawaii.com), is an innovative healthcare delivery organization that provides comprehensive community-based care focusing on primary care and prevention and wellness. It was the first organization to offer the Ornish program to the people of Hawaii.

For more information about ‘Ekahi Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, visit www.ekahiornish.com and follow them on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.