Regularly practicing Tai Chi an ancient Chinese martial art form can help improve respiratory function in people with chronic breathing problems, according to a new study. It could be a low-cost and easily accessible option. Tai Chi involves significant levels of physical exertion with stretching, breathing, and coordinated movement but requires no special equipment. The researchers found that this slow, methodical form of exercise is equivalent to pulmonary rehabilitation for improving respiratory function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a chronic group of inflammatory lung disease that blocks airflow and makes it difficult to breathe.
Currently, pulmonary rehabilitation requires access to trained staff and specialised facilities. “Knowing the potential benefits of Tai Chi, we hypothesised that, in patients being treated with medication to manage their COPD symptoms, it could help improve the quality of life when compared to a course of classical western style pulmonary rehabilitation,” said Nan-Shan Zhong, Professor at the Guangzhou Medical University in China. The study, appearing in the journal CHEST, tracked 120 patients with COPD in rural China who had never used a bronchodilator.
For many patients, reducing the symptoms of COPD can greatly improve their quality of life. While medication continues to play an important role in treating COPD, the cost of those medicines can be a barrier for some patients, especially for treating a chronic illness like COPD. “This study demonstrates that a low-cost exercise intervention is equivalent to formal pulmonary rehabilitation, and this may enable a greater number of patients to be treated,” said Michael I. Polkey, from the Imperial College London.
“Our study shows that Tai Chi is a viable alternative when there is no local pulmonary rehabilitation service. We encourage pulmonary rehabilitation providers to consider offering Tai Chi as an alternative therapy that patients would then be able to continue unsupervised in their own home,” Polkey added.