Weekly Tai Chi Sessions Can Help COPD Patients, New Study Suggests

A new study out of China suggests the ancient martial arts technique Tai Chi could dramatically reduce the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Study authors claim the regular practice of Tai Chi could be even more effective than standard pulmonary rehabilitation exercises.

Professors at both Guangzhou Medical University and Imperial College, London’s NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit split 120 Chinese villagers with COPD into two groups. The first group did pulmonary rehabilitation exercises regularly while the second group went to weekly Tai Chi sessions. All study participants received the bronchodilator Indacaterol every morning.

Throughout the course of this study, investigators measured the quality of all COPD patients’ lives using standard measures. After only 12 weeks, investigators noticed that the Tai Chi patients had a slightly higher level of lung health than the pulmonary rehabilitation group.

Although the study formally ended after 12 weeks, researchers decided to track both groups’ progress for another 12 weeks. At the end of 24 weeks, the Tai Chi patients had an even larger advantage over the pulmonary rehabilitation patients in all measures of pulmonary health.

The COPD patients who practiced Tai Chi met with a Yang style instructor for five hours every week over the formal testing period. For the follow-up investigation of 12 weeks, researchers didn’t provide participants with a certified instructor, but they encouraged patients to practice Tai Chi as often as possible.

Investigators conclude Tai Chi is at least just as effective as standardized pulmonary rehabilitation and should be considered seriously by healthcare providers. No matter what patients prefer, researchers encourage everyone living with COPD to practice one of these exercise regimens. The combination of gentle aerobics and high-quality medications can significantly reduce COPD’s more severe symptoms.

This full study was published in the latest edition of CHEST under the title “Tai Chi and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Compared for Treatment-Naive Patients With COPD.”