Why Chinese exercises such as tai chi are so good for patients’ all-round health

Practising tai chi, qigong and other such exercises lowers blood pressure, bad cholesterol and triglycerides, and reduces depression, in stroke patients and people with heart disease and high blood pressure

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 11:10am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 6:33pm

Traditional Chinese exercises such as tai chi may improve the health and well-being of those living with heart disease, high blood pressure or stroke, according to new research from the Shanghai University of Sport published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers reviewed 35 studies, including 2,249 participants from 10 countries, on the physical and psychological benefits of traditional Chinese exercises (most commonly tai chi and qigong). The researchers found, among participants with cardiovascular disease, Chinese exercises helped reduce systolic blood pressure (the top number) by more than 9.12 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by more than 5 mm Hg on average. They also found small, but statistically significant drops in the levels of bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides. Chinese exercises also seemed to improve quality of life and reduce depression in patients with cardiovascular disease. However, traditional Chinese exercises did not significantly improve participant’s heart rate, aerobic fitness level or scores on a general health questionnaire.

Why people at risk of heart disease and diabetes may want to ditch olive oil

Risk of heart disease and diabetes may be lowered by a diet higher in a lipid found in grapeseed and other oils, but not in olive oil, a new study suggests. Researchers at The Ohio State University in the United States found that men and women with higher linoleic acid levels tended to have less heart-threatening fat nestled between their vital organs, more lean body mass and less inflammation. And higher linoleic acid levels also meant lower likelihood of insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Low-cost cooking oils rich in linoleic acid have been disappearing from grocery shelves, fuelled by industry’s push for plants that have been modified to produce oils higher in oleic acid, says Martha Belury, a professor of human nutrition who led the research. Grapeseed oil remains an excellent source of linoleic acid, which constitutes about 80 per cent of its fatty acids, and corn oil also remains a decent source, she says.

The research team also looked at the health effects of oleic acid, found in olive oil and some other vegetable oils, as well as long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish including salmon and tuna.

Though inflammation decreased as blood levels of those fatty acids rose, higher levels of oleic acid or long-chain omega-3s did not appear to have any relationship to body composition or signs of decreased diabetes risk despite longstanding recommendations that people consume more of these “healthy” fats.

Can mindful eating help lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

Research suggests that practising mindfulness – or taking the time to bring awareness to present-moment experiences with an open attitude of curiosity and non-judgment – can be effective in allowing us to make more thoughtful food choices and recognise when we are hungry, satisfied or full. But a new study by the University of California, San Francisco, finds mindful eating could also improve glucose levels and heart health to a greater extent than behavioural weight loss programmes that do not teach mindful eating. The researchers evaluated the effects of a mindfulness-based weight-loss intervention on nearly 200 obese adults who were randomly assigned to a mindfulness intervention or an active attention control group over a 5½-month period with a subsequent one-year follow-up. At 18 months after the start of the intervention, participants in the mindfulness programme lost an estimated 4.3 per cent of body weight on average, which was 1.7kg more than those in the control group. Compared to the control group, the mindfulness intervention showed greater improvements in certain cardiometabolic outcomes tied to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease up to one year after the intervention ended.