Seniors who practice tai chi regularly demonstrate improved arterial compliance (the ability of arteries to expand and contract with the pumping of the heart), as well as increased leg muscle strength, according to a Hong Kong study. Arterial compliance is an important predictor of cardiovascular health in the elderly and a therapeutic target for physical exercise in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Twenty-nine elderly subjects, who had practised tai chi for at least 1.5 hours a week for three years, were compared with 36 age-matched subjects with no tai chi experience. The tai chi practitioners scored better than controls in almost all haemodynamic parameters, including blood pressure, vascular resistance and pulse pressure. Previous studies have shown that strength training, which improves muscle function, is accompanied by a decline in arterial compliance. The authors conclude that the combined beneficial effects of tai chi on vascular health and muscle strength make it a good exercise strategy for older adults. (Tai Chi, arterial compliance, and muscle strength in older adults. Eur J Prev Cardiolog. 2012 Apr 4. [Epub ahead of print]).

A major national survey of practitioners of acupuncture in the UK concludes that acupuncture provides a substantial contribution to the country’s healthcare. A team of UK authors conducted a cross-sectional survey of 800 practitioners randomly chosen from the four major national acupuncturists’ professional associations. Data collected included demographic details, association membership, statutorily regulated status, practice setting, style of acupuncture practised, diagnostic methods used and needle response sought. Practitioners additionally recorded details of their 10 most recent patients, including demographic details, primary reason for consulting and lifestyle advice provided. Of the 330 practitioners who responded, 29% were doctors, 29% physiotherapists, 15% nurses and 27% independent acupuncturists. Of these, 62% were women with a median age of 48 years. The majority (68%) practised in independent settings, while 42% practised within the National Health Service. Patients most commonly consulted for low back, neck, shoulder and knee pain, as well as headaches and migraine. Treatment for infertility by independent acupuncturists was found to have increased fivefold over a period of years. Based on the survey results, the authors estimate that four million acupuncture treatments were provided in the UK in 2009, of which approximately one-third were provided within the NHS. They conclude that the primary complaints for which patients consult acupuncturists reflect the growing evidence base on acupuncture for these conditions, and suggest that the survey data provides a basis for future decision-making regarding policy and practice. (Acupuncture in practice: mapping the providers, the patients and the settings in a national cross-sectional survey. BMJ Open. 2012 Jan 11;2(1):e000456. Print 2012).