People who have survived chronic heart failure are generally advised to avoid physical activity because they are considered too frail to exert themselves. This represents a physical and psychological conundrum because exercise is not only a way to strengthen the heart, but it has numerous psychological and emotional benefits, as well.

Even in light of this, the risks from exerting a weakened heart outweigh the potential benefits, and patients usually spend their recovery time being sedentary. While there is no known causal relationship between emotions and exercise, it is not uncommon for survivors of heart failure to suffer from depression, as well.

Now, however, researchers believe that meditative exercises such as tai chi may be a safe and effective way to exercise while not overly exerting the heart. In a recent study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, doctors looked at patients who survived chronic systolic heart failure and found that regularly taking part in tai chi improved their mood and overall quality of life while also making them feel more self-assured about their physical abilities.

In the study in question, 100 outpatients who had survived heart failure were evaluated over a period of approximately 3 years. The patients were randomly divided into two groups: one group took part in a 12-week tai chi intervention course, while the second group was enrolled in an education class (control group). The tai chi class consisted of group sessions that took place twice a week over 12 weeks. The education classes covered the same duration and were overseen by a nurse practitioner. Efforts were made to ensure that the two groups were similar in severity of their conditions as well as demographic makeup and rates of comorbidities.

What doctors observed was that by the completion of the study, there was a greater improvement in the quality of life of the tai chi group when compared with the education group. Furthermore, subjects in the tai chi group displayed higher level of confidence in the physical abilities when it came to taking part in exercise-related activities (also known as exercise self-efficacy), increased daily activity, and greater feelings of well-being when compared to the control group.

The authors indicate that more work needs to be done on a larger scale, but for now, the findings seem to indicate that tai chi could be part of an overall mind-body training regimen to improved the health and quality of life of heart failure sufferers. Some of the advantages of tai chi are that it is easy, cost effective, safe, and has been shown to have good rates of adherence.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in this country, and throughout the world. Many of the risk factors for heart disease may be affected by diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices, including the choice not to smoke or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

If you have questions or concerns, speak with your physician, and visit the website for the Center for American Heart Association. To learn more about tai chi, visit the website for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).