Growing Research Interest in Using Tai Chi for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Nov 22, 2010
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a disease that makes it
hard to breathe and it gets worse over time. According to the National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute, COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts
of mucus (a slimy substance), wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness,
and other symptoms. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Most people
who have COPD smoke or used to smoke. Long-term exposure to other lung
irritants, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust, also may contribute
The effectiveness of exercise training in people with COPD is well
established. But alternative methods of training such as Tai Chi have not been
widely evaluated. However, in recent years, there have been a growing number of
scientific studies tackling this subject. For example, in 2009, Reuters reported
a study showing that Tai Chi and Qigong could improve the lung functions of COPD
Most recently, according to the November 2010 issue of the journal
Contemporary clinical trials, a few
researchers at Concord Repatriation General Hospital of Concord, Australia is
conducting a study to determine if short form Sun-style Tai Chi improves
exercise capacity and quality of life in people with COPD. Those researchers
believe that if short form Sun-style Tai Chi improves exercise capacity,
physical performance and quality of life in people with COPD, it would provide
an alternate form of exercise training which does not require exercise equipment
thus making effective exercise training more accessible for the large numbers of
people with COPD.
They are not alone. A group of scientists from the Division for
Research and Education in Complementary and Integrative Medical Therapies at
Harvard Medical School reported their pilot study in the Nov 2010 issue of the
journal Respiratory care.
In that pilot study, 10 patients with moderate to severe COPD
participated. Five of them were randomly assigned to do 12 weeks of tai chi plus
usual care, and the other five to use usual care alone. The tai chi training
consisted of a 1-hour class, twice weekly, that emphasized gentle movement,
relaxation, meditation, and breathing techniques.
Exploratory outcomes included disease-specific symptoms and
quality-of-life, exercise capacity, pulmonary function tests, mood, and
self-efficacy. The researchers also conducted qualitative interviews to capture
patient narratives regarding their experience with tai chi.
The study shows that at 12 weeks, there was significant improvement in Chronic
Respiratory Questionnaire score among the tai chi participants, compared to the
usual-care group. There were non-significant trends toward improvement in 6-min
walk distance, Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, and University
of California, San Diego Shortness of Breath score. There were no significant
changes in either group's peak oxygen uptake.
The scientists concluded that a randomized controlled trial of tai chi
is feasible in patients with moderate to severe COPD and Tai chi exercise as an
adjunct to standard care warrants further investigation.