Benefits of Tai Chi – some research findings.
Whilst Tai Chi is, performed slowly (generally) it addresses the key mechanisms of fitness: muscle strength, flexibility, and balance. Performing Tai Chi also has the same aerobic impact as brisk walking. Research has been undertaken on several areas and here is just a small sample.
Muscle strength. In a 2006 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, Stanford University researchers reported benefits of Tai Chi in 39 women and men, average age 66, with below-average fitness and at least one cardiovascular risk factor. After taking 36 Tai Chi classes in 12 weeks, they showed improvement in both lower-body strength (measured by the number of times they could rise from a chair in 30 seconds) and upper-body strength (measured by their ability to do arm curls).
In a Japanese study using the same strength measures, 113 older adults were assigned to different 12-week exercise programs, including Tai Chi, brisk walking, and resistance training. People who did Tai Chi improved more than 30% in lower-body strength and 25% in arm strength — almost as much as those who participated in resistance training, and more than those assigned to brisk walking.
Internist Dr. Gloria Yeh, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School states “Although you aren’t working with weights or resistance bands, the unsupported arm exercise involved in Tai Chi strengthens your upper body,” Also, “Tai Chi strengthens both the lower and upper extremities and also the core muscles of the back and abdomen.”
Flexibility. Women in the 2006 Stanford study significantly boosted upper- and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.
Balance. Tai Chi improves balance and, according to some studies, reduces falls. Proprioception, the ability to sense the position of one’s body in space, declines with age. Tai Chi helps train this sense, which is a function of sensory neurons in the inner ear and stretch receptors in the muscles and ligaments. Tai Chi also improves muscle strength and flexibility, which makes it easier to recover from a stumble. Fear of falling can make you more likely to fall; some studies have found that Tai Chi training helps reduce that fear.
Cardiovascular Benefit. Research has shown that the extremely gentle low impact T'ai Chi exercise can provide the same cardiovascular benefit as moderate impact aerobic exercise. The Harvard Women's Health Watch reported, "Studies support Tai Chi [use] for heart-attack and cardiac-bypass patients, to improve cardio-respiratory function and reduce blood pressure."
29 studies met inclusion criteria, including nine randomized controlled trials, 14 nonrandomized studies, and six observational trials. The study subjects included patients with coronary heart disease, heart failure, CVD, and CVDRF (hypertension, dyslipdemia, impaired glucose metabolism). Tai Chi interventions ranged from 8 weeks to 3 years, and the sample size ranged from 5 to 207. Most studies reported improvement with Tai Chi intervention, such as reduction in blood pressure and increase in exercise capacity. In addition, no adverse effects were reported. The authors concluded that Tai Chi might be a beneficial adjunctive therapy for patients with CVD and CVDRF. - Medscape Today, from WebMD, 2010
Tai Chi for medical conditions
When combined with standard treatment, Tai Chi appears to be helpful for several medical conditions. For example:
Arthritis. In a 40-person study at Tufts University, presented in October 2008 at a meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, an hour of Tai Chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis. According to a Korean study published in December 2008 in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, eight weeks of Tai Chi classes followed by eight weeks of home practice significantly improved flexibility and slowed the disease process in patients with ankylosing spondylosis, a painful and debilitating inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine.
Low bone density. A review of six controlled studies by Dr. Wayne and other Harvard researchers indicates that Tai Chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women. A controlled study of Tai Chi in women with osteopenia (diminished bone density not as severe as osteoporosis) is under way at the Osher Research Centre and Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre.
Breast cancer. Tai Chi has shown potential for improving quality of life and functional capacity (the physical ability to carry out normal daily activities, such as work or exercise) in women suffering from breast cancer or the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For example, a 2008 study at the University of Rochester, published in Medicine and Sport Science, found that quality of life and functional capacity (including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, and flexibility) improved in women with breast cancer who did 12 weeks of Tai Chi, while declining in a control group that received only supportive therapy.
Heart disease. A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of Tai Chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease. The study, which was published in the September 2008 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, found no improvement in a control group that did not practice Tai Chi.
Heart failure. In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of Tai Chi improved participants’ ability to walk and quality of life. It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure. A 150-patient controlled trial is under way.
Hypertension. In a review of 26 studies in English or Chinese published in Preventive Cardiology (Spring 2008), Dr. Yeh reported that in 85% of trials, Tai Chi lowered blood pressure; with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.
Parkinson’s disease. A 33-person pilot study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published in Gait and Posture (October 2008), found that people with mild to moderately severe Parkinson’s disease showed improved balance, walking ability, and overall well-being after 20 Tai Chi sessions.
Sleep problems. In a University of California, Los Angeles, study of 112 healthy older adults with moderate sleep complaints, 16 weeks of Tai Chi improved the quality and duration of sleep significantly more than standard sleep education. The study was published in the July 2008 issue of the journal Sleep.
Stroke. In 136 patients who had had a stroke at least six months earlier, 12 weeks of Tai Chi improved standing balance more than a general exercise program that entailed breathing, stretching, and mobilizing muscles and joints involved in sitting and walking. Findings were published in the January 2009 issue of Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair.
Tai Chi makes your brain bigger and improves memory
Tai Chi makes your brain bigger and can improve memory and thinking - possibly delaying the onset of Alzheimer's disease, claim scientists.
A new study has revealed how elderly people practising Tai Chi just three times a week can boost brain volume and improve memory and thinking. As the exercise increases mental activity, scientists believe it may be possible to delay the onset of incurable Alzheimer's in pensioners.
Dementia and the gradual cognitive deterioration that precedes it are associated with increasing shrinkage of the brain, as nerve cells and their connections are gradually lost. Although scientists know brain volume can be increased in people who participate in aerobic exercise, this is the first study to show a less physical form of working out, like Tai Chi, can have the same results. Researchers conducted an eight month controlled trial on Chinese seniors, comparing those who practiced Tai Chi three times a week to a group with no intervention.
Participants also had lively discussions three times a week over the same period, with results showing a similar increase in brain volume and improvements on memory and thinking as those exercising.
Findings also revealed the group who did not participate in Tai Chi showed brain shrinkage over the eight months - consistent with what generally has been observed for elderly people in their 60s and 70s.
The research suggests forms of exercise like Tai Chi that include an important mental health exercise component, are associated with increased production of brain growth factors like aerobic exercise. Dr James Mortimer, of the University of South Florida, said, "If this is shown, then it would provide strong support to the concept of 'use it or lose it' and encourage seniors to stay actively involved both intellectually and physically.
"The ability to reverse this trend with physical exercise and increased mental activity implies that it may be possible to delay the onset of dementia in older persons through interventions that have many physical and mental health benefits.”Epidemiologic studies have shown repeatedly those individuals who engage in exercise that is more physical or are more socially active have a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease.
"The current findings suggest that this may be a result of growth and preservation of critical regions of the brain affected by this illness."
The study, by University of South Florida and Fudan University in Shanghai China, was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2012.