Tai chi is a low-cost and useful alternative to improve respiratory function in people with COPD
09/26/2018 // Zoey Sky // Views

Pulmonary healthcare providers are constantly searching for ways to help people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) improve their respiratory function. Now individuals with COPD can add tai chi as an affordable alternative treatment for pulmonary rehabilitation (PR), according to a study published in the journal CHEST.

PR is recommended for patients with COPD since it can improve their ability to exercise, as well as their overall quality of life. However, PR often requires access to trained staff and specialized facilities.

Tai chi for improved pulmonary function

Tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art that requires physical exertion, involves breathing, coordinated movement, and stretching, and requires no special equipment.

The results of the study showed that tai chi is a low-cost and accessible alternative. The researchers explained that tai chi is "equivalent to PR for improving respiratory function in patients with COPD."

According to Dr. Nan-Shan Zhong, a professor from the State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, one of the health benefits that tai chi can offer is help COPD patients manage their symptoms. The researchers noted that this slow, methodical exercise can help improve the patient's quality of life in the same way a course of classical western style PR could.

For the study, the research team monitored 120 patients with COPD in rural China who have never used a bronchodilator. The patients received a daily treatment with indacaterol, a drug used to control wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness due to COPD. The participants were then randomly assigned to groups receiving either traditional PR or tai chi.


The researchers used the Saint Georges Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) to assess the patients. SGRQ is a standard measure of health status in patients with conditions related to airway obstruction. Both groups showed similar improvements, but after 12 weeks, there was a clinically significant difference in SGRQ scores.

Patients who practiced tai chi had better scores, and they also performed well during the six-minute walk test.

Professor Yuan-Ming Luo, another researcher from the State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, shared that based on the patients' SGRQ and test scores, tai chi is a suitable alternative for PR. The patients who practiced tai chi also had better modified Medical Research Council dyspnea scores and quadriceps strength.

The participants in the tai chi group received formal instruction five hours weekly for 12 weeks. The group was taught the 24-form Yang style of tai chi. Meanwhile, the PR group received treatment thrice a week for 12 weeks.

After 12 weeks, the participants were encouraged to continue their tai chi either alone or with a group in their community. The group didn't receive formal assistance during this period.

The subjects in the PR group also received verbal encouragement to stay physically active. Final analysis of all data took place 12 weeks after the formal training ended.

Lead author Dr. Michael I. Polkey from the NIHR Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit, The Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, and Imperial College Londonsaid their data proves that tai chi is an accessible form of exercise intervention, and a suitable alternative to formal PR. It can help a lot of patients improve their quality of life, especially for those who don't have access to other treatments for COPD.

He concluded that regular physical exercise is crucial to managing the symptoms of COPD. While PR is recommended, tai chi was found to be an effective alternative for those without access to local PR services, or cannot afford them.

Polkey noted, "We encourage pulmonary rehabilitation providers to consider offering Tai Chi as an alternative therapy that patients would then be able to continue unsupervised in their own home." (Related: Clinical trials show that acupuncture is an effective treatment for asthma.)

Read more articles about tai chi and how it can improve respiratory function at HealingArts.news.

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