Tai Chi as an adjunct physical activity for adults aged 45 years and older enrolled in phase III cardiac rehabilitation

Background: Cardiac rehabilitation improves physical, cognitive and psychosocial functioning, yet services are greatly underutilized with increasing patterns of attrition over time. Tai Chi has been suggested as a possible adjunct to cardiac rehabilitation exercise training.

Aim: To describe differences in physical, cognitive and psychosocial functioning among adults ≥ 45 years old attending phase III cardiac rehabilitation, who have or have not self-selected Tai Chi exercise as an adjunct physical activity.

Methods: A cross-sectional design compared subjects attending group-based Wu style Tai Chi classes plus cardiac rehabilitation, with cardiac rehabilitation only. Subjects had a battery of physical and cognitive functioning tests administered to examine aerobic endurance, balance, strength, and flexibility, verbal retrieval/recall, attention, concentration and tracking. Subjects completed a health survey to ascertain cardiac event information, medical history, and psychosocial functioning (i.e. health-related quality of life, stress, depressive symptoms, social support, and Tai Chi self-efficacy).

Results: A total of 51 subjects (75% married, 84% college-educated, 96% White/European-American) participated. Subjects were on average 70 (± 8) years old and had attended cardiac rehabilitation for 45 (± 37) months. Approximately 45% (n = 23) attended Tai Chi classes plus cardiac rehabilitation, while 55% (n = 28) attended cardiac rehabilitation only. Subjects attending Tai Chi plus cardiac rehabilitation had better balance, perceived physical health, and Tai Chi self-efficacy compared to those attending cardiac rehabilitation only (p ≤ 0.03).

Conclusion: Tai Chi can be easily implemented in any community/cardiac rehabilitation facility, and may offer adults additional options after a cardiac event.