Tai chi combines a series of set movements, such as "wave hands like clouds", with relaxation and breathing. It's a mind-body exercise because it requires concentration on posture, relaxation and breathing.
"If you've had a heart attack or stroke, or are affected by another heart condition, I would strongly recommend adding tai chi to your recovery and rehabilitation," said study author Dr Ruth Taylor-Piliae of the University of Arizona.
"There are physical benefits like improved balance and it's good for mental health too," Taylor-Piliae added.
For the findings, published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, the research team combined analysis of clinical trials from the past decade examining the effect of tai chi on psychological wellbeing in adults with coronary heart disease, heart failure, hypertension, and stroke.
A total of 1,853 patients from 15 clinical trials were included in the analysis. The average age of participants was 66 and 44 per cent were women.
The study showed that Tai chi was linked with less psychological distress as a whole. It was also associated with a reduction in depression.
The connection with anxiety was not statistically significant, possibly due to insufficient numbers of patients (depression was more frequently studied).
Patients with cardiovascular disease often have poor quality of life due to unpleasant symptoms (for example shortness of breath) or disability.
The study found that tai chi was also associated with a better quality of life. This included mental health quality of life (how they felt, ability to go out and socialise, etc) and physical health quality of life (walking, ability to do daily activities, etc).
More research is needed on how this mind-body activity exerts its mental health benefits, according to the researchers.
"I think it's the synergy between postures and breathing. During tai chi, you have good body posture, and research has shown that this enhances mood. We also know that holding your breath can cause stress and anxiety," Taylor-Piliae said.
"Tai chi is well suited for people of any age or exercise ability and can be safely adapted for anybody," the authors concluded.