At Mayo Clinic last fall, those of us attending the annual WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium worked very hard for five days. (Well, as hard as a bunch of heart attack survivors can collectively work, that is). The intensity of world-class cardiology lectures on women’s heart disease was interrupted by lovely mind-body breaks like Meditation or Pilates or (my favourite) Tai Chi for Heart Health.
Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion” but it might well be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating or preventing many health problems, including heart disease.
In one study we learned about, tai chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease.
And you can get started even if you aren’t in top shape or the best of health.
In this low-impact, slow-motion exercise, you go without pausing through a series of motions named for animal actions — for example, “white crane spreads its wings” — or martial arts moves, such as “box both ears.” As you move, you breathe deeply and naturally, focusing your attention — as in some kinds of meditation — on your bodily sensations.
UPDATE, Journal of the American Medical Association, March 9, 2016: Another vote of confidence in tai chi and other traditional Chinese exercises today, particularly for those people already diagnosed with heart disease, researchers report. The new review of 35 studies included more than 2,200 people in 10 countries. Investigators found that, among people with heart disease, low-risk activities like tai chi appeared to help lower blood pressure and levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and were also linked to improved quality of life and reduced depression in heart disease patients. (J Am Heart Assoc. 2016; 5: e002562.