AF Association News & Events

Study suggests Tai Chi may help improve mood and sleep in stroke survivors

According to a study presented at the virtual EuroHeartCare – ACNAP Congress 2021, stroke survivors had significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress after attending Tai Chi classes. They also had better sleep efficiency, less wakefulness after sleep onset, and less time awake.

A press release reports that depression occurs in approximately one-third of stroke survivors and is linked with greater disability and mortality rates. Individuals with post-stroke depression frequently also report anxiety, stress, and poor sleep. It adds that tai chi focuses on releasing tension in the body, incorporating mindfulness and imagery into movement, increasing awareness and efficiency of breathing, and promoting overall relaxation of body and mind.

Therefore, the aim of the study was to examine the feasibility of using tai chi in people with previous stroke. A total of 11 stroke survivors reporting symptoms of depression were enrolled in the study. They were on average 70 years old, and 55% were men. They attended the tai chi intervention classes, three times each week, for a total of eight weeks. The intervention had been planned for 12 weeks but was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each class consisted of a 10-minute warm-up period, 40-minutes of tai chi exercise, and a 10-minute cool-down period. Participants were gradually taught 24 basic movements from the Wu style of tai chi (an average of two new movements per week).

Measurements were taken at the start of the study and repeated after the eight-week intervention. Symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress were assessed using standardised questionnaires. Sleep was assessed during night-time using a triaxial accelerometer, which detects movement. Specifically, the researchers examined sleep efficiency (percentage of time spent sleeping), the amount of time awake after initially being asleep, and the total time awake after going to bed.

After eight weeks of tai chi, the researchers observed significant reductions in symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress compared to baseline, along with better sleep efficiency, less wakefulness after sleep onset, and less time awake.

Study authors Dr Ruth Taylor-Piliae (University of Arizona, Tucson, USA) and colleagues also took blood samples at baseline and eight weeks to measure markers of oxidative stress and inflammation which have previously been associated with post-stroke depression. They found lower activity of the oxidative stress marker after the intervention but no significant changes in any of the inflammatory markers.

Dr Taylor-Piliae (University of Arizona, Tucson, USA) said: “At baseline the participants reported mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress. I was surprised and pleased with the improvements we observed in these self-reported symptoms and in sleep with just an eight-week intervention… The results of this feasibility study should be interpreted with caution because of the small sample size and lack of a control group. More research is needed before recommendations can be made about tai chi for people who have had a stroke. We hope to do a randomised trial with a 12-week tai chi intervention in a larger group of patients.” 

Interested in using tai chi to improve your mental and physical health? You can purchase the “Make Your Heart Feel Good - DVD Triple Pack” from our online store — CLICK HERE.

For more about atrial fibrillation and its association with stroke, CLICK HERE.

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