Posts Tagged ‘Harvard Medical School’

The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi Released

It’s official! The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi:12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart & Sharp Mind is now available in book stores and online book sellers, including Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com.

Conventional medical science on the Chinese art of Tai Chi now shows what Tai Chi masters have known for centuries: regular practice leads to more vigor and flexibility, better balance and mobility, and a sense of well-being.

Cutting-edge research from Harvard Medical School also supports the long-standing claims that Tai Chi also has a beneficial impact on the health of the heart, bones, nerves and muscles, immune system, and the mind.

This research provides fascinating insight into the underlying physiological mechanisms that explain how Tai Chi actually works.

Dr. Peter M. Wayne, a longtime Tai Chi teacher and a researcher at Harvard Medical School, developed and tested protocols similar to the simplified program he includes in this book, which is suited to people of all ages, and can be done in just a few minutes a day.

This book includes:

• The basic program, illustrated by more than 50 photographs

• Practical tips for integrating Tai Chi into everyday activities

• An introduction to the traditional principles of Tai Chi

• Up-to-date summaries of the research literature on the health benefits of Tai Chi

• How Tai Chi can enhance work productivity, creativity, and sports performance

Peter M. Wayne, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Director of Research for the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, jointly based at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Prior to this appointment, Dr. Wayne served as the Director of Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Programs at the Osher Research Center and Founding Research Director at the New England School of Acupuncture.

He has more than thirty-five years of training experience in Tai Chi and Qigong and is an internationally recognized teacher of these practices.

It was an honor to work with such a renowned Tai Chi teacher and researcher to put together this new book.

I can honestly say my life is richer, and my mind and body certainly more relaxed, from having practiced Tai Chi over the past 3 1/2 years as I worked with Dr. Wayne on the book.

Tai Chi Improves Breathing in COPD Patients

There is a growing body of research that suggests that the slow, rhythmic breathing during Tai Chi enhances the health of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Conventional pulmonary rehabilitation programs that focus on aerobic exercise and strength training can improve exercise capacity, quality of life, and symptoms in patients with COPD.

In addition to extending the breathing techniques taught in pulmonary rehabilitation, mind-body interventions such as Tai Chi integrate novel elements, such as progressive relaxation, imagery/visualization, mindfulness of breathing and overall body sensations, postural training, and coordinated patterns of breathing and movement.

“These therapeutic elements may allow Tai Chi to impact COPD symptoms and pathology via complex mechanisms not specifically targeted in conventional rehabilitation and therefore may be an effective adjunct to therapy,” says Peter Wayne, PhD, Director of Research, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Wayne is the author of the upcoming book The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi.

“Mind-body exercises may also allow patients with COPD to feel more confident about their ability to exercise and entice them to continue to exercise, which, of course, has the potential for lasting benefits.”

A new study published online today shows that Tai Chi can be used as an effective form of exercise therapy for people with COPD.

The Australian researchers found that short-form Sun-style Tai Chi done twice a week for 12 weeks could improve the exercise capacity and quality of life in people with COPD. The research published ahead of print in the European Respiratory Journal suggests that Tai Chi may be as beneficial as pulmonary rehabilitation.

“With increasing numbers of people being diagnosed with COPD, it is important to provide different options for exercise that can be tailored to suit each individual,” said lead author Regina Wai Man Leung from the Concord Repatriation General Hospital.

“The results from this small sample provide compelling evidence that Tai Chi is an effective training program for patients with COPD, and could be considered as an alternative to the usual exercise training program that are available in pulmonary rehabilitation.”

At Harvard Medical School, Wayne’s group has completed a small, pilot randomized controlled trial designed to determine the feasibility of administering a Tai Chi program to improve the quality of life and exercise capacity in COPD patients.

The Harvard Medical School researchers randomized 10 patients, average age 66, with moderate to severe COPD to 12 weeks of Tai Chi plus usual care or usual care alone.

The Tai Chi training consisted of a one-hour class, twice weekly, that emphasized gentle movement, relaxation, meditation, and breathing techniques.

“We looked at disease-specific symptoms and quality-of-life, exercise capacity, pulmonary function tests, mood, and self-efficacy,” says Wayne.

“Participants reported enjoying the Tai Chi program, and were able to participate without experience and adverse reactions to exercising.”

After 12 weeks, the Tai Chi participants said they felt significant improvement in chronic respiratory symptoms compared to the usual-care group.

The Tai Chi group also had slight improvements in their 6-minute walking distance, depression, and shortness of breath.

“Our conclusion: Tai Chi as an exercise appears to be a safe, positive adjunct to standard care and warrants further investigation,” says Wayne.

Led by Dr. Gloria Yeh, the Harvard Medical School group is now conducting a 10-fold larger trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health comparing Tai Chi to both meditative breathing exercises (isolated out of the Tai Chi program) as well as to a non-exercise education program.

Choosing the Diet that Will Work for You

Scores of weight-loss diets have been in the limelight over the years.

But relatively few have been carefully studied.

What do the data say about the effectiveness of diets and how can you use that information to choose a weight loss approach that will work for you?

In the February 7 issue of Healthbeat newsletter from Harvard Medical School, I was pleased to see the answer is that no one diet works for everyone.

You have to figure out the best eating plan for you.

“The take-home lesson is that it is okay to experiment on yourself,” states the newsletter.

“If you give a diet your best shot and it doesn’t work, maybe it wasn’t the right one for you, your metabolism, or your situation.

Don’t get too discouraged or beat yourself up because a diet that ‘worked for everybody’ didn’t pay off for you.

Try another.”

Here’s the newsletter’s take on the diet studies and what they mean.

The bottom line is you have to reduce the amount of calories you take in (and also burn off calories through exercise) to lose weight.

The diet studies

The reality is that when it comes to shedding pounds, the key is cutting calories — and it doesn’t really matter whether those calories come mainly from steak, bread, or vegetables.

A study led by Harvard researchers published in 2009 in The New England Journal of Medicine compared four different low-calorie diets (high fat, high protein; high fat, average protein; low fat, high protein; and low fat, average protein) in 811 overweight adults.

Although all the participants lost an average of about 13 pounds in the first six months (about 7% of their initial weight), they started to regain at the one-year mark.

After two years, average weight loss was the same in all groups.

An earlier study in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that it’s whether you stick with whatever diet you choose that makes the difference.

In this study, overweight and obese adults were assigned to follow the Atkins diet, the Ornish diet, Weight Watchers, or the “Zone” diet.

After one year, nearly half of the participants had dropped out of the study.

But those who didn’t lost similar amounts of weight (about 5 to 7 pounds each, on average).

People assigned to the Atkins and Ornish diets were more likely to drop out of the study, suggesting that many people found these plans too extreme.

But for certain people, the structure of a restricted plan may be helpful.

Experts advise people to keep the percentage of their calories from major nutrients within the recommended federal guidelines:

Protein: 10% to 35%
Carbohydrate: 45% to 65%
Fat: 20% to 35%

Note that diets that are less than 45% carbohydrate or more than 35% protein are hard to follow, and they’re no more effective than other diets.

In addition to possibly increasing the risk of heart disease, diets with very low carbohydrate levels may have a negative effect on mood, according to several studies.

Low-fat: Doesn’t taste great … and is less filling

Once the main strategy for losing weight, low-fat diets were shoved aside by the low-carb frenzy.

But healthy fats can actually promote weight loss, and some fats are good for the heart; eliminating them from the diet can cause problems.

Since fat contains 9 calories per gram while carbohydrates contain 4, you can theoretically double your food intake without taking in more calories by cutting back on fatty foods and eating more that are full of carbohydrates, especially water-rich fruits and vegetables.

Still, such a diet tends to be less filling and flavorful than other diets, which lessens its long-term appeal.

Low-carbohydrate: Quick weight loss but long-term safety questions

The low-carb eating strategy is based on the biological fact that eating carbohydrates raises blood sugar levels, which triggers an outpouring of insulin from the pancreas.

The theory goes a step further, claiming that high insulin levels produce hunger, so people who eat carbohydrates take in more calories and gain weight.

Low-carbohydrate diets tend to cause dehydration.

To make up for the lack of carbohydrates in the diet, the body mobilizes its own carbohydrate stores from liver and muscle tissue.

In the process, the body also mobilizes water, meaning that the pounds shed are water weight.

The result is rapid weight loss, but after a few months, weight loss tends to slow and reverse, just as happens with other diets.

The American Heart Association cautions people against the Atkins diet, because it is too high in saturated fat and protein, which can be hard on the heart, kidneys, and bones.

The lack of fruits and vegetables is also worrisome, because eating these foods tends to lower the risk of stroke, dementia, and certain cancers.

Most experts believe South Beach and other, less restrictive low-carbohydrate diets offer a more reasonable approach.

Mediterranean-style: Healthy fats and carbs with a big side of fruits and vegetables

Mediterranean-style diets emphasize good fats and “good” carbs.

Saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol are the bad guys.

Good fats are monounsaturated (found in olive oil, for example) and polyunsaturated (found in such foods as fish, canola oil, and walnuts).

Mediterranean diets tend to have a moderate amount of fat, but much of it comes from healthful monounsaturated fats and unsaturated omega-3 fats.

It is high in carbohydrates, but most of the carbs come from unrefined, fiber-rich foods.

It is also high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish, with only modest amounts of meat and cheese.

People living in Mediterranean countries have a lower-than-expected rate of heart disease.

But the traditional lifestyle in the region also includes lots of physical activity, regular meal patterns, wine, and good social support.

It’s hard to know what relative role these different factors play — but there is growing evidence that in and of itself, the diet can reduce cardiovascular risk and the development of diabetes.