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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) and Taoist Tai Chi® arts.

If you have been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, you may be experiencing increasing shortness of breath and wheezing, tightness in the chest or a chronic cough. You may find that your energy is low and you are more tired than you think you should be. Perhaps you are even struggling with depression. Certainly COPD can deeply affect your enjoyment of life.

Fortunately, research and anecdotal evidence show that Tai Chi helps people with COPD improve breathing and energy levels, reduce medications, slow the progression of the disease, and live more fully. The physical movements of Taoist Tai Chi® arts help the chest expand and the body relax which together improve lung health and capacity. Training in these arts gives people a way to manage and maintain healthy lung function.

People practicing Taoist Tai Chi® arts also find they have better strength, flexibility and balance, reduced stress and anxiety, and a feeling of lightness and well-being.

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One Person’s Story of Improved Breathing through Taoist Tai Chi® arts

I was diagnosed with moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) about 15 years ago. My primary symptoms were chronic cough and shortness of breath going up hills or stairs. I was given a non-steroid bronchodilator, the mildest medicine available for COPD. So far, even though it is a progressive ailment, I have not needed to take any stronger medication and the disease has not worsened. It has even got better so that I sometimes forget to take my medications! Taoist Tai Chi® practice helps my body relax and this helps the bronchial tubes and lungs also relax and function more naturally. My doctor agrees that doing Taoist Tai Chi® arts has helped me keep the COPD in check.

– Polly, Vancouver, Canada


Research: Tai Chi and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Excellent evidence shows that regular Tai Chi practice benefits COPD rehabilitation.
  • Systematic reviews on Tai Chi and COPD found that practitioners improved in their performance on measurements of lung function and capacity (e.g. the 6-minute walk test, forced expiratory volume in 1 second,1,2 and forced vital capacity2)
  • Practitioners also reported decreased chronic shortness of breath1 and higher quality of life scores than control groups.2

1Huston, P. and McFarlane, B. (2016). Health benefits of tai chi: What is the evidence? Canadian Family Physician, 62, 881-90.

2Guo, JB., Chen, BL., Lu, YM., et. al. (2016). Tai Chi for improving cardiopulmonary function and quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Rehabilitation, 30, 750–764.

Tai Chi is an effective alternative for pulmonary rehabilitation in patients with COPD.
  • “Tai Chi has beneficial effects on exercise capacity and health-related quality of life in COPD patients. (It is) recommended as an effective alternative training modality in pulmonary rehabilitation programs2.”
  • One study1 found that 12 weeks after the cessation of either a regular Tai Chi practice or pulmonary rehabilitation program, those in the Tai Chi group had better scores on the SGRQ (St. George’s Respiratory Questionnaire). They concluded that “Tai Chi is equivalent to pulmonary rehabilitation programs and may confer more sustained benefit.”

1Polkey, M., Qiu, ZH., and Zhou, L. et. al. (2018). Tai Chi and pulmonary rehabilitation compared for treatment-naive patients with COPD. CHEST Journal.

2Wu, W., Liu, X., Wang, L., et. al. (2014). Effects of Tai Chi on exercise capacity and health-related quality of life in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, 9, 1253–1263.

Tai Chi is an enjoyable and accessible means of improving fitness, balance, and dyspnea in COPD patients.
  • Studies have shown higher levels of treatment compliance in groups assigned to Tai Chi practice over other treatment groups. Other treatment methods often require special equipment or supervision whereas Tai Chi can be practiced at home and requires no special equipment.1
  • Patients enjoyed partaking in the Tai Chi practice and perceived that it improved their quality of life.2 It also may be safer and less straining for people with COPD.4,6 Many researchers underscore the benefit of having a treatment exercise that does not require exercise equipment.2,3,5,6 Tai Chi as an alternative treatment program can also reduce the cost of and travel distance to treatment facilities.5

1Wang, LH., Wu, KL., Chen, XD., and Liu, QL. (2019). The effects of Tai Chi on lung function, exercise capacity, and health related quality of life for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A pilot study. Heart, Lung, and Circulation, 28, 1206-1212.

2Leung, R.W.M., McKeough, Z., Peters, M., and Alison, J. (2012). Tai Chi, like it or not? The COPD experience. European Respiratory Society Annual Congress.

3Ouyang, HF. (2012). Effect of Chinese Tai chi exercise in COPD patients with moderate airflow limitation. European Respiratory Society Annual Congress.

4Yeh, G.Y., Roberts, D.H., Wayne, P.M., et. al. (2010). Tai Chi exercise for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A pilot study. Respiratory Care, 55(11), 1475-1482.

5Spruit, M.A. and Polkey, M.I. (2013). T’ai chi for individuals with COPD: an ancient wisdom for a 21st century disease? European Respiratory Journal, 41, 1005-1007.

6Ngai, SPC., Jones, AYM., and Tam, WWS. (2016). Tai Chi for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 6.

What are practitioners with COPD saying about Taoist Tai Chi® arts?

“My breathing is so much better with Taoist Tai Chi® practice. It reduced my use of inhalers.”

– Kay, New Zealand

“Fewer doctor visits. Asthma medications reduced and other medications more effective or discontinued.”

– Wendy, Tlell, Canada

“I have a chronic lung condition. I am convinced that Taoist Tai Chi® arts have helped in the maintenance of this and [that they] allow me to live a full life.”

– Janice, Ottawa, Canada


How does Taoist Tai Chi® practice help?

Taoist Tai Chi® arts involve a full range of motion with deep stretching and continuous turning of the spine. They exercise the whole physiology including muscular, skeletal, and circulatory systems, as well as tendons, joints, connective tissue and organs such as the lungs. This whole body approach has a profound effect on our health, increasing strength, flexibility and resilience, whatever our condition.

Taoist Tai Chi® arts are also a form of moving meditation that has a deep effect on the brain, calming and clearing the mind.

Breathe Fully – Move Freely – Be Active 

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