Tai Chi 'improves body and mind'

The ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi can help to improve people's health, research suggests.

Doctors in the United States analysed 47 studies looking at the impact Tai Chi had on people with chronic health problems, like heart disease or MS.

They found that it could improve balance control, flexibility and even the health of their heart.

Writing in The Archives of Internal Medicine, they said it also reduced stress, falls, pain and anxiety.

Deep breathing

Tai Chi originated in China where it has been used for hundreds of years.

It combines deep breathing with relaxation and postures that flow from one to another through slow movements.

Practitioners say it can have a positive effect on people's health, improving memory, concentration, digestion, balance and flexibility.They say it is also helpful for people with psychological problems, such as depression, anxiety or stress.This latest study by doctors at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston suggests there is medical evidence to back up those claims.Their findings are based on a review of studies published in English and Chinese."Overall, these studies reported that long-term Tai Chi practice had favourable effects on the promotion of balance control, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness and reduced the risk of falls in elders," the researchers said.They said the martial art helped to reduce "pain, stress and anxiety in healthy subjects".But it also had benefits for people with serious conditions, such as heart disease and high blood pressure."Benefits were reported by the authors of these studies in cardiovascular and respiratory function in healthy subjects and in patients who had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery as well as in patients with heart failure, hypertension, acute myocardial infarction, arthritis and multiple sclerosis."'Well documented'Bob Weatherall, secretary of the British Council of Chinese Martial Arts, welcomed the findings."The health aspects of Tai Chi are well documented," he told BBC News Online."It is used extensively in hospitals in China to improve the health of patients. Hospitals in England have started using it too."Tai Chi is all about breathing and posture. It's about getting the mind and body to work together. Some people call it moving meditation."Most people practice it for its health benefits and for stress relief."

Tai Chi and Cardiovascular Health

There is evidence, though sometimes controversial, that exercise improves many aspects of cardiovascular health including reduced incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. [1][2][3] The majority of this research has focused on the impact of vigorous or moderate exercise. Less is known about the cardiovascular benefits of lower intensity exercise, such as Tai Chi.

A growing body of evidence suggests Tai Chi practice, even over short periods of time, may improve cardiovascular health. Depending on how it is practiced, Tai Chi has been characterized as a low to moderate intensity exercise. Three studies are briefly discussed to illustrate the types of evidence available to evaluate the impact that Tai Chi may have on components of cardiovascular health. Young et al. [4]conducted a well designed, randomized controlled trial with 62 subjects that compared the effects of aerobic exercise versus Tai Chi on blood pressure in mildly hypertensive older adults. Over the 12-week study period, Tai Chi was observed to be equally effective as aerobic exercise in reducing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Lai et al. [5] conducted a longitudinal, prospective study comparing two-year trends in cardiorespiratory function of a group of elderly Tai Chi practitioners (n=45) with an age-matched, sedentary control group (n=39). Their results suggest that Tai Chi may delay the decrease in aerobic capacity usually found with aging. Lan et. al. [6] conducted a cross-sectional, case-controlled study to evaluate the health benefits of long-term, geriatric Tai Chi practitioners. Cycle ergometry revealed that peak oxygen uptake was greater for Tai Chi practitioners (n=41) compared to age-matched sedentary subjects (n=35). No adverse effects related to the short- or long-term practice of Tai Chi were reported in any of these studies. These and other studies are summarized in reviews by Li et al. [7] and Lan et al.[8].

In summary, these and related studies suggest that Tai Chi is a safe exercise, even for frail elders, and may be beneficial to various aspects of cardiovascular health. It requires no specialized equipment, is relatively inexpensive and can be taught/learned in a group setting. Tai Chi appears to elicit a cardiovascular response equivalent to that associated with moderate intensity exercise, and as such meets the American College of Sports Medicine, American Heart Association, and Centers for Disease Control recommendations for daily performance of low- to moderate-intensity activities [9]. However, studies have yet to investigate whether the physiological mechanisms by which Tai Chi impacts cardiovascular health are the same as those believed to relate to more typical endurance and aerobic training[10].

Improvement in balance, strength, and flexibility after 12 weeks of Tai chi exercise in ethnic Chinese adults with cardiovascular disease risk factors

Taylor-Piliae REHaskell WLStotts NAFroelicher ES.

Stanford Prevention Research Center, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford University, Calif, USA.

CONTEXT: Declines in physical performance are associated with aging and chronic health conditions. Appropriate physical activity interventions can reverse functional limitations and help maintain independent living. Tai chi is a popular form of exercise in China among older adults. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether tai chi improves balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility over time. DESIGN: Repeated measures intervention; data collected at baseline, 6 weeks, and 12 weeks. SETTING: Community center in the San Francisco Bay Area. PARTICIPANTS: Thirty-nine Chinese adults with at least 1 cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor. INTERVENTIONS: A 60-minute tai chi exercise class 3 times per week for 12 weeks. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: A battery of physical fitness measures specifically developed for older adults assessed balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility. RESULTS: Subjects were 65.7 (+/- 8.3) years old, Cantonese-speaking (97%) immigrants, with 12 years or less of formal education (87%) and very low income (67%). Reported CVD risk factors were hypertension (92%), hypercholesteremia (49%), diabetes (21%), and 1 current smoker. Subjects were below the 50th percentile of fitness at baseline compared to age- and gender-specific normative US data. Statistically significant improvements were observed in all balance, muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility measures after 6 weeks, and they increased further after 12 weeks. CONCLUSIONS: Tai chi is a potent intervention that improved balance, upper- and lower-body muscular strength and endurance, and upper- and lower-body flexibility in these older Chinese adults. These findings provide important information for future community-based tai chi exercise programs and support current public health initiatives to reduce disability from chronic health conditions and enhance physical function in older adults.


PMID: 16541997 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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