Health Benefits, Tai Chi Linked

New research from Tufts finds the ancient practice of tai chi may actually help improve health.

Boston [04-28-04] The two thousand year old practice of tai chi – a combination of martial arts movements and deep breathing – has been used for generations in China to release energy and negative feelings. But an effort by Tufts to review the body of research on tai chi finds that the ancient practice may also be linked with a variety of other health benefits – from flexibility to cardiovascular health.

Using 47 studies on tai chi in English and Chinese medical journals, Tufts’ Dr. Chenchen Wang – a physician at Tufts-New England Medical Center – analyzed the effect of the practice on healthy people as well as those with assorted health conditions.

“Overall, these studies reported that long-term tai chi had favorable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls in the elderly,” said Wang, an assistant professor of medicine at Tufts. “Benefit was also found for balance, strength and flexibility in older subjects; and pain, stress and anxiety in healthy subjects.”

Wang and colleagues concluded that tai chi is generally a safe exercise, and one that may be most beneficial for older adults, including those who suffer from arthritis, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

“The sickly elderly who participated in the program also showed improved balance, strength, and flexibility and fewer falls,” reported the Jerusalem Post.

While the study – funded in part by the National Institutes of Health – provided insight into links between tai chi and improved health, it left some unanswered questions, including which mechanisms were responsible for tai chi’s apparent health benefits.

“Despite its popularity, the biological mechanisms and clinical effects of tai chi are not well understood,” Wang and colleagues wrote. “The long-term effects of tai chi practice are still unknown, and there is insufficient information to recommend tai chi to patients with chronic conditions.”