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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 to COPD.

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 patients.
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.




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