The impact of Tai Chi and mind-body breathing in COPD: Insights from a qualitative sub-study of a randomized controlled trial

Author: Elizabeth A Gilliam1, Tina Cheung1, Kristen Kraemer1,2, Daniel Litrownik1, Peter M Wayne2, Marilyn L Moy2,3, Gloria Y Yeh1,2
1 Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brookline, MA, United States of America.
2 Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, United States of America.
3 Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Section, Department of Medicine, Veterans Administration Boston Healthcare System, Boston, MA, United States of America.
Conference/Journal: PLoS One
Date published: 2021 Apr 8
Other: Volume ID: 16 , Issue ID: 4 , Pages: e0249263 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249263. , Word Count: 369

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is associated with multiple psychosocial and behavioral factors. Prior research suggests that mind-body interventions may support the development and maintenance of healthy behaviors and improve health-related quality-of-life in such patients. We sought to qualitatively explore cognitive, psychosocial, and behavioral changes in patients with COPD who participated in two different mind-body interventions compared to an education control.

We analyzed semi-structured qualitative exit interviews from a prospective, randomized pilot trial (N = 123) investigating 12-weeks of Tai Chi (TC) vs. mind-body breathing (MBB) vs. education (EDU) control in patients with moderate-severe COPD. TC involved traditional movements, that integrate meditative breathing, while MBB focused mainly on meditative breathing techniques alone. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis of randomly selected transcripts was performed by two independent reviewers using an iterative process to identify emergent themes informed by grounded theory methods until thematic saturation was reached.

A total of 66 transcripts were reviewed (N = 22 TC, N = 22 MBB, N = 22 EDU). Participants were mean age = 68.1 years, GOLD Stage = 2.3, baseline FEV11 percent predicted mean (SD): 58% (13.4), 42.4% female. We identified six frequently mentioned themes: 1) overall awareness and understanding, 2) self-care knowledge, skills and behaviors, 3) behavior-related neurocognitive concepts, 4) physical function, 5) psychological well-being, and 6) social support/social function. Compared to EDU, more participants in TC and MBB noted improvements in awareness of self and the mind-body connection (e.g., body and breath awareness), knowledge of breathing techniques and integration of self-care skills with daily activities, self-efficacy for symptom management (particularly managing anxiety and dyspnea), acceptance of disease, physical function improvements (e.g., endurance, dyspnea, fatigue), and psychological well-being (particularly relaxation, emotion regulation and decreased reactivity). Compared to MBB, those in TC shared more intention to continue with self-care behaviors, physical activity self-efficacy, and improved flexibility. All three groups, including EDU, noted increased social support and knowledge of disease. Those in EDU, however, had fewer mentions of processes related to behavior change, and less concrete changes in neurocognitive, psychological, and physical function domains.

Mind-body interventions including meditative breathing may impact behavior-related neurocognitive and emotional factors that improve self-care management and support positive behavioral changes in patients with COPD.

Trial registration:
This trial is registered in Clinical, ID number NCT01551953.

PMID: 33831022 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0249263