Tai Chi for Hypertension
Mar 29, 2020
Medical Report: Hypertension and Tai Chi
Eric L. Zielinski
Arguably the most insidious and widespread risk factor, hypertension has been linked to almost every major disease Americans battle against. Primarily a lifestyle disease, most people can completely correct the issue by implementing healthy diet, exercise and stress-reduction techniques. Tai Chi, for instance, has been thoroughly proven clinically to not only correct common causes of hypertension such as stress and obesity, it has actually been linked to correcting the disease itself.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as, “Systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg or currently taking medication to lower high blood pressure.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 32 percent of American are hypertensive. In spite of the modern interventions employed by physicians and alternative health care providers, this prevalence has been steadily rising the past decade. Today, more than 75 percent of people who are have high blood pressure take drugs to control their blood pressure, indicating a 15 percent increase from a decade ago.
Generally, the few symptoms patients directly experience related to hypertension include headaches, dizziness, and nose bleeds. However, the list of disease processes related to high blood pressure is insurmountable:
- Cardiovascular diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, enlarged heart, and heart attacks.
- Brain damage due to strokes, transient ischemic attack (TIA) and dementia.
- Kidney failure
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Nerve damage.
- Bone loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “For most adults, there's no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure, called essential hypertension or primary hypertension, tends to develop gradually over many years.” However, for other people, the cause of their hypertension can be linked other health concerns such as:
- Adrenal gland tumors.
- Kidney disorders.
- Illegal drugs – amphetamines and cocaine.
- Medications – birth control pills, decongestants, pain relievers, cold remedies and many prescription drugs.
Other than genetics, the National Institute of Health (NIH) states that the following factors most commonly put people at risk of developing hypertension:
- Excess weight/obesity.
- Stress or anxiety.
- Excessive alcohol consumption defined as “more than one drink per day for women and more than two drinks per day for men.”
- Diet high in salt and processed foods.
Medical Research and Management
The NIH recommends the following to control high blood pressure:
- Eat a heart-healthy diet, including potassium and fiber, and drink plenty of water.
- Exercise regularly – at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day.
- Quit smoking.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Limit sodium (salt) intake – aiming for less than 1,500 mg per day.
- Reduce stress – utilize proven techniques like Tai Chi and meditation.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
Ultimately, as it happens with more than 75 percent of people who are diagnosed with hypertension, their doctor puts them on drugs to control the issue. Physicians have hundreds of drugs to choose from and some of the most commonly prescribed ones include:
- Diuretics (water pills) – leads to excessive urination and aids the kidneys in sodium removal.
- Beta-blockers – causes the heart to beat slower.
- ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers – relaxes blood vessels.
The side effects of these drugs vary with every patient and can include the following:
- Constipation or diarrhea.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Skin rashes.
- Weight gain/loss.
According to the NIH, “A single blood pressure drug may not be enough to control your blood pressure, and you may need to take two or more drugs.” Thereby, putting people at risk of experiencing complicated side effects that are common with a cocktail of pharmaceuticals interacting with each other.
Research showing Tai Chi’s ability to help decrease hypertension
- A 2009 pilot study was printed in the Clinic Journal of Sport Medicine reporting the effects a 10-week multidisciplinary Tai Chi intervention had on 21 sedentary obese women. To date, this was the first study evaluating these factors as most research designs have concentrated on diet and conventional exercise programs; thus, neglecting the mind-body aspect. These, women, however, added Tai Chi to their regular care plan including a low calorie diet, weekly physician/psychologist/dietician group session, and a generic exercise program. Changes in weight, body composition, heart rate, blood pressure, mobility scores, mood, Three Factor Eating Questionnaire scores, and General Self-Efficacy were looked at carefully. The Tai Group “improved in resting systolic blood pressure, chair rise test, mood, and reduced percent of fat at week 10 and at 6 months follow-up. General self-efficacy was enhanced in both groups and maintained at 30 weeks.”
- To test the hypothesis that Tai Chi is a reliable method for relieving the side effects of conventional cancer treatments in breast cancers survivors, University of Hong Kong researchers investigated the effects of qigong exercise on upper limb lymphedema, arterial resistance, and blood flow velocity in survivors with breast cancer and mastectomy. The article, published in 2013, reports the results of 11 breast cancer survivors with Tai Chi-type Qigong experience assigned to an experimental group and 12 survivors of breast cancer without Qigong experience assigned to a control group. With the average age of 58 and 54 years, respectively, everyone in both groups had breast cancer-related lymphedema. All procedures were completed within one session and the experimental group performed 18 Forms Tai Chi Internal Qigong for approximately 6 minutes while the control group rested for similar duration in a sitting position. All participants were measured on their affected upper limb circumference (by using tape measures), peripheral arterial resistance, and blood flow velocities (using a Doppler ultrasound machine). The circumferences of the affected upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist decreased after Tai Chi. Regarding vascular outcomes, the resistance index decreased and the maximum systolic arterial blood flow velocity and minimum diastolic arterial blood flow velocity increased significantly after Tai Chi.
- In 2010, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a preliminary study of the effects of Tai Chi and Qigong on indicators of metabolic syndrome – a group of symptoms including hypertension and high blood glucose which are associated with coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Specifically, the researchers evaluated for body mass index (BMI); waist circumference; blood pressure; triglycerides; HDL-cholesterol; glucose control (three month glucose levels, fasting insulin); insulin resistance; health-related quality of life; stress and depressive symptoms. Thirteen participants with metabolic syndrome were recruited to be part of a 12-week program of Tai Chi and Qigong for 1 to 1.5 hours up to three times a week. In addition, they were encouraged to perform the exercises outside of the study. After the 12 weeks, significant improvements were recorded in four of the seven indicators of metabolic syndrome including: BMI (losing on average 3 kg per), waist circumference (2.80 cm average decrease), systolic and diastolic blood pressure decrease (11.64 mmHg, 9.73 mmHg) and glucose control (0.32 percent decrease in three month glucose test. In addition, insulin resistance fell, indicating a decreased predisposition for type 2 diabetes and the participants claimed the following: decreased stress, less depression symptoms, overall increased mental health, increased vitality, better sleep, less pain, and fewer cravings for food while participating in the program. Notably, three patients no longer met the criteria for metabolic syndrome after this test.
- To compare studies targeting Tai Chi and Qigong and identify the physical and psychological health outcomes shown to be associated with them in adults older than 55, University of Arizona and Arizona State researchers evaluated 36 research reports with a total of 3,799 participants and observed the following: “Significant improvement in clusters of similar outcomes indicated interventions utilizing [Tai Chi and Qigong] may help older adults improve physical function and reduce blood pressure, fall risk, and depression and anxiety. However, as researchers indicated, “Missing from the reviewed reports is a discussion of how spiritual exploration with meditative forms of [physical activity], an important component of these movement activities, may contribute to successful aging.”
In 2013, The Journal of Nursing reviewed the effects Tai Chi has on blood pressure, blood sugar and blood lipid control for patients with chronic diseases. By reviewing six electronic databases for related articles published between 1990 and 2011, Chang Gung University of Science and Technlogy researchers were able to collect from seven studies in which 947 people participated in clinical trials. They concluded that risk factors leading to CVD were minimized by Tai Chi by stating, ”Systematic review results indicate that Tai Chi interventions have a significant and positive effect on blood pressure and lipid levels.”
In 2013, the American Journal of Health Promotion set out to determine the associations between Tai Chi, anxiety, and cardiovascular disease risk factors. In a community in Taipei City, Taiwan Of the volunteers one hundred thirty-three adults aged 55 years and older, sixty-four participated in a 60-minute Tai Chi exercise three times per week for 12 weeks and 69 volunteers did not. Not only did the Tai Chi group show a greater drop in anxiety levels and diastolic blood pressure at the 12-week follow-up than did the control group, systolic diastolic blood pressure significantly decreased in the 6-week follow-up and 12-week follow-up tests. Furthermore, they achieved a greater drop in body mass index at the 6-week and 12-week follow-up visits than the controls. The researchers thus concluded, “The results highlight the long-term benefits of a [Tai Chi] program in facilitating health promotion by reducing anxiety and risk factors for cardiovascular diseases” like hypertension.
For most people, the solution to hypertension is simple and a holistic approach must be implemented to achieve maximal, longstanding benefits. That is not to say, however, that certain interventions are not as valuable as others. Tai Chi, for instance, is unique in that it not only corrects risk factors leading to high blood pressure, it can actually reverse the disease itself. It is, therefore, advisable for physicians to implement Tai Chi in their patient management plans in an attempt to reverse this epidemic that has proven to be the cause of countless health issues.