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Exercise For Diabetes

Do Tai Chi for Your Heart

Credit: Harbor Athletic Club

When you do the ancient Chinese exercise of tai chi, you can minimize your risk of heart problems, the most common and serious complication of diabetes, according to a meta-analysis of 35 randomized clinical trials. Just published in the March 9, 2016, issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association, the study shows that tai chi and other traditional Chinese exercises like qigong can lower the blood pressure, improve the cholesterol and triglyceride levels, boost the quality of life, and reduce the depression of people living with heart disease and stroke.

The improvements in blood pressure and lipid levels were statistically significant. People in the studies reported more satisfaction with their quality of life and lower levels of depression.

Low risk exercise

Seemingly simple and deceptively gentle, this ancient exercise brings these and other health benefits with little chance of damage. No wonder it is gaining popularity in the United States and throughout the Western world.

The full text of this new meta-analysis is free online at “Traditional Chinese Exercise for Cardiovascular Diseases.” The 10 co-authors are from China’s Shanghai University of Sport and other Chinese universities and hospitals.

Many health benefits from tai chi

Earlier studies had demonstrated that tai chi can help people with several different conditions. Five years ago, I wrote here that tai chi can cut our risk of falls by improving our balance. Harvard University’s health publications recommend tai chi for a variety of medical conditions, anything from balance and Parkinson’s disease to arthritis, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain.

Tai chi is a series of slow, flowing motions and deep, slow breathing to exercise the body and to calm the mind. You gradually move from one pose to another, shifting your weight and extending your limbs to challenge your balance. It looks like a graceful dance, and you can practice it anywhere.

You can do tai chi while you are walking, standing, or even sitting, so people at all levels of fitness can do it. Anyone, no matter their age and even those who use wheelchairs, can do it.

How best to learn tai chi

The best way to learn tai chi is probably to take a class at a senior or community center, health club, or hospital. I learned it in the 1970s as part of a training I was taking, and after moving to Colorado in 2004, I continued to practice tai chi at my city’s senior center. Now, I do it at no cost to me through the SilverSneakers Fitness program at my local YMCA. Around the country SilverSneakers is available at more than 13,000 places through more than 65 Medicare health insurance plans, usually at no cost.

You can forget that outdated exercise motto, “no pain, no gain.” Tai chi is painless, and doing it can give you big gains.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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