When your heart is forced to work too hard for a long period of time, the cardiac muscle can weaken to the point that it can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
In addition, chemical changes affect the kidneys, which regulate body fluids. If fluid backs up, it can cause swelling, or edema, especially in the arms, legs, and ankles.
The more fluid that builds up, the harder the heart has to work to pump blood, weakening it even more. It’s a vicious cycle.
The standard treatment for heart failure is cardiac drugs, which have been shown to be able to remodel the heart, halting or at least slowing the progression of heart failure.
In cases of severe heart failure, an implantable defibrillator may be required, and dietary measures are also essential — particularly salt restriction, which helps limit the buildup of fluid in the body.
But what many people don’t realize is that other treatments — including some that could be called “alternative” treatments — can play a role in enhancing conventional heart failure therapy, and bolstering quality of life.
One of the most important measures against heart failure is to engage in some form of daily exercise.
Too often, people hear the word “heart failure” and “weak heart,” and believe exercise is not a good idea. In fact, the opposite is true.
Tai chi is a mind/body exercise that originated in China as a martial art and is now being used by many in this part of the world to improve their health and well-being.
There are many different styles of tai chi, but all involve slow, relaxed, gentle movements, one flowing into the next.
Tai chi is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation” because the body is in constant motion, and practitioners focus on posture and deep breathing.
Over the past several years, studies have pointed to the effectiveness of tai chi for helping people with chronic heart failure.
In 2011, Boston researchers evaluated exercise capacity, quality of life, physical activity, and mood in 100 people with chronic heart failure.
The study participants were randomly assigned to either a tai chi group, in which members participated in one hour tai chi classes twice weekly for 12 weeks; or an education (control) group, in which members participated in classes about coping with heart failure for the same duration and frequency as the tai chi classes.
The researchers found that the participants in the tai chi group had clinically significant improvements in quality of life compared to the education group.
In addition, improvements in mood and an increase in daily activity were seen in the tai chi group participants.
However, significant differences were not seen between the tai chi and education groups for two capacity measurements — peak oxygen intake and performance on a walking test.
The researchers concluded that tai chi shows promise as a complement to standard medical care for people with chronic heart failure.
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