Tai Chi May Work Better Than Aerobics to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Tai Chi May Work Better Than Aerobics to Lower Your Blood Pressure
  • A new study shows tai chi was more effective than aerobic exercise in lowering blood pressure among prehypertension patients.
  • Practicing tai chi helps reduce stress, boost mood, and promote heart health, all of which contribute to improving hypertension.
  • Aside from tai chi, additional ways to lower blood pressure include exercising regularly (walking or swimming) and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Aerobic exercise is known to help the heart and the cardiovascular system. But now a new study finds that the exercise of tai chi may be a better option for people looking to lower their blood pressure.

According to the new study, tai chi proved to be more effective than aerobic exercise in lowering blood pressure among patients with prehypertension.

The findings were published February 9 in JAMA Network Open.

How to tell if you have high blood pressure

A blood pressure reading is comprised of two numbers. The top number is the systolic pressure or the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure or the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

A normal blood pressure level is less than 120 systolic over less than 80 diastolic (less than 120/80 mm Hg).

Prehypertension blood pressure is defined in this study as a systolic reading between 120-129 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of 80-89 mm Hg.

High blood pressure levels or hypertension would be a systolic reading of 140 mm Hg or higher and a diastolic reading of 90 mm Hg or higher.

People taking tai chi saw larger drop in blood pressure

Researchers analyzed 342 participants with prehypertension between the ages of 18 and 65. Participants were placed in two groups. One group performed four 60-minute sessions of tai chi each week for one year. The other group performed the same number and frequency of sessions for aerobic exercise. The duration of the study was 2 and a half years.

“The study’s strengths lie in its robust methodology, including its prospective, single-blinded randomized clinical trial design,” said Dr. Joseph Daibes, cardiologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital. “Randomized controlled trials are considered the gold standard for assessing the effectiveness of interventions as they minimize bias and allow for causal inference. The inclusion of a large sample size and its 12-month duration further enhances the reliability of the findings, providing a comprehensive assessment of the long-term effects of tai chi and aerobic exercise on blood pressure management.”

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At the end of one year, there was a significant change in systolic blood pressure for both groups but a bigger drop in the tai chi group.

The researchers found an average systolic blood pressure change of −7.01 mm Hg in the tai chi group vs −4.61 mm Hg in the aerobic exercise group.

Daibes continued: “The study’s findings indicating that tai chi was more effective than aerobic exercise in reducing [systolic blood pressure] among individuals with prehypertension offer valuable insights for healthcare providers and patients alike. Tai chi, as a mind-body exercise, may offer unique benefits beyond traditional aerobic activities, such as stress reduction, improved relaxation, and enhanced mental focus, which could contribute to its superior efficacy in lowering blood pressure.”

Tai chi can help with anxiety, depression, and sleep issues

Growing evidence demonstrates the mental and physical benefits of tai chi, which include reducing anxiety and depression, improving sleep and cognitive performance, and promoting heart health.

“Tai chi exercise is characterized by slow, purposeful movements,” Joe Petreycik, RN, and physiotherapist, Bridgeport Hospital, explained. “It involves meditative breathing, mindfulness, and imagery. With meditation and imagery accepted as effective stress reduction techniques which can lower blood pressure, it makes sense that tai chi exercise would have similar blood pressure lowering benefits.”

In short, tai chi seems to have an advantage when it comes to lowering blood pressure in people dealing with prehypertension. This exercise primarily focuses on the mind-body connection.

“The slow, deliberate movements combined with focused breathing create a serene environment that’s perfect for dialing down stress levels – a big win for blood pressure management,” said Daibes.

Also, tai chi is extremely gentle on the body, making it accessible to most people.

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“It’s not like your typical high-intensity workouts; it’s more like a peaceful dance that’s good for the soul,” Daibes explained. “And the benefits don’t stop there – tai chi also works wonders for circulation and cardiovascular health, which are key players in keeping blood pressure in check. With its holistic approach to wellness, tackling both physical and mental well-being, tai chi is shaping up to be a game-changer for folks looking to get a handle on their blood pressure.”

The health benefits of tai chi

Tai chi can improve your health in numerous ways, according to Dr. John Higgins, professor and sports cardiologist with UTHealth Houston. These include:

  • Lowering stress and blood pressure
  • Improving muscle strength
  • Improving balance and flexibility
  • Improving joint health
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Increasing bone density
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Improved lung function
  • Reduced cardiovascular disease

“Tai chi can certainly be helpful in improving exercise tolerance, particularly in those with barriers to regular aerobic exercise,” Petreycik stated.

Its gentle yet disciplined movements help improve balance, flexibility, and joint health, making it a popular choice for people looking to stay agile and reduce stiffness, especially if they have arthritis or other joint issues, Daibes explained.

Plus, the focus on deep breathing and mindfulness makes tai chi a great stress reliever, helping you unwind and find inner peace, he added.

Top ways to lower blood pressure

Besides tai chi, there are several other effective ways to lower blood pressure.

“Regular exercise, such as brisk walking or swimming, along with a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can make a significant difference for reducing blood pressure,” said Daibes. “Managing weight, reducing sodium intake, limiting alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, and prioritizing quality sleep are also essential steps.”

Stress management techniques like deep breathing exercises and meditation can help, as can medication when necessary. It’s crucial to find the right combination of lifestyle changes and medical interventions with the guidance of a healthcare provider for optimal results, Daibes added.

Also, the value of aerobic exercise in lowering blood pressure should not be overlooked.

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“Moderate intensity aerobic exercise is considered the gold standard for exercise-based treatment of high blood pressure,” Petreycik explained. “Because of the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes or more per week, this considerable time commitment may be difficult for many to adhere to.”

There is a growing body of evidence showing a dose-response relationship between exercise intensity and blood pressure. Simply put, as the exercise intensity increases, one can expect a lower resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure, he explained.

People who are physically capable and have approval from their physician “to participate in high intensity interval training (HIIT), there is potential for reductions in blood pressure similar to that with taking commonly prescribed blood pressure medications,” said Petreycik. “Adapting to the higher intensity aerobic exercise improves cardiorespiratory fitness which has been shown to address common comorbidities related to high blood pressure, such as diabetes and obesity.”

From a dietary perspective, the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet can help lower blood pressure with its emphasis on a rich variety of plant-based foods, protein sources low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and inclusion of unsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, and oils, Petreycik stated.

Adhering to recommended guidelines for sodium intake can also help lower blood pressure. For most people, this may be consuming less than 2,300 mg per day. For others with preexisting health conditions, their doctor may recommend as little as 1500 mg per day.

The combination of a heart-healthy diet and exercise regimen can assist with weight loss or weight management. Losing as little as 10lbs if you are considered overweight or obese can have a positive impact on lowering blood pressure, Petreycik added.

Takeaway Note

According to a recent study, tai chi was more effective compared to aerobic exercise in lowering blood pressure among prehypertension patients.

There are many health benefits of tai chi, which include decreasing stress, boosting mood, and promoting heart health, all of which can help with hypertension.

Other ways to lower blood pressure include working out on a regular basis and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.


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