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Tai chi may give seniors a heart healthy boost

Regular tai chi was found to improve the expansion and contraction of the arteries, which helps ward off cardiovascular disease. — file picRegular tai chi was found to improve the expansion and contraction of the arteries, which helps ward off cardiovascular disease. — file picHONG KONG, April 7 — A new study published this week claims that practising the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi can boost the health of seniors by lowering blood pressure and strengthening muscles.

Researchers from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University looked at 65 elderly participants from Hong Kong — 29 of whom were recruited from local tai chi clubs and practised tai chi for 90 minutes a week over a period of three years. Findings showed that people who practised the technique, which entails deep breathing combined with gentle movements, showed a significant improvement in knee muscle strength.

Perhaps more importantly, regular tai chi also improved the expansion and contraction of the arteries (also known as arterial compliance), which helps ward off cardiovascular disease. Seniors in the study who didn’t practise had a 44 per cent higher risk of heart disease that those who did.

“This is the first study to investigate the possible effects of tai chi on arterial compliance by comparing older tai chi practitioners with non-practitioners similar in age and activity level,” said researcher Dr. William Tsang from the study.

“The improvement in arterial compliance could have resulted from a combination of aerobic training, stretching, mental concentration, and calm meditation during tai chi movement.”

The study was published online on April 4 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The new study adds to a growing body of recent research on the health perks of a regular tai chi programme. Last year, in two separate studies, researchers found that tai chi can lift depression, help prevent falls, and improve mental health in older people.

Another recent US study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that heart patients can boost their quality of life and feelings of well-being by doing tai chi. Published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, a separate study found that people with Parkinson’s disease who practised tai chi for six months showed better balance than counterparts who did other forms of exercise. — AFP/Relaxnews

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