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Tai Chi : Health Benefits - Medical Findings



Prevention of Falls

Over the past ten years or so many studies have been published demonstrating the positive influence of Tai Chi on health. Perhaps the most well-known regarding seniors occurred at Emory University under the direction of Dr. Stephen Wolfe. Special Tai Chi movements designed for seniors reduced the risk of multiple falls by 47.5%. The study concluded: “Our data suggests that Tai Chi can influence older individuals functioning and well-being significantly and provides some appreciation why this exercise form has been practiced by older Chinese for more than three centuries.’

The Emory study also reported that fear of falling was reduced for the Tai Chi group. After the intervention, only 8% of the Tai Chi group said they feared falling, compared with 23% before they had the training. Moreover, the Tai Chi group maintained a strong hand grip and lowered their systolic blood pressure after a 12 minute walk. They took more deliberate steps and decreased their walking speed slightly compared to the other groups. "The Tai Chi group seemed to have more confidence" says Wolfe, noting that "they had an increased sense of being able to do all that they would like to do."


Tai Chi Chuan is a traditional Chinese martial art, which combines deep diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation with gentle movement.

The research team assessed the impact of a 12 week programme of Tai Chi exercises on the T helper cell activity of 30 patients with type 2 diabetes and 30 healthy people of the same age.

T cells are a key component of the body’s immune system, producing powerful chemicals, including interleukins, which alter the immune response.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with chronic inflammation, caused by excessive glucose in the blood (hyperglycaemia).

After the 12 week programme glycated haemoglobin (when excess blood sugar combines with the oxygen transporter in red blood cells) levels fell significantly from 7.59% to 7.16 in the diabetic patients. And levels of interleukin-12, which boosts the immune response, doubled. Levels of interleukin-4, which suppresses the immune response, fell. T cell activity also significantly increased.

Strenuous physical activity depresses the immune system response, but moderate exercise seems to have the opposite effect, say the authors. Tai Chi is classified as moderate exercise.

Previous research has shown that it boosts cardiovascular and respiratory function, as well as improving flexibility and relieving stress, they add.

Tai Chi may prompt a fall in blood glucose levels, or improve blood glucose metabolism, sparking a drop in the inflammatory response. Alternatively, the exercise may boost fitness levels and the feeling of wellbeing, which may then boost the health of the immune system, they suggest.

In a separate study, also published ahead of print, a 12 week programme of Tai Chi and Qigong (another Chinese exercise) prompted a significant fall in blood glucose levels and significant improvements in other indicators of the metabolic syndrome in 11 middle aged to older adults.

The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms, including high blood pressure and high blood glucose that is associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The 13 participants exercised for up to 1.5 hours, up to three times a week, and were also encouraged to practice the exercises at home.

At the end of the 12 weeks, they had lost an average of 3 kg in weight and their waist size had dropped by an average of almost 3 cm. Their blood pressure also fell significantly, and by more than would have been expected from the weight loss alone, say the authors.

Insulin resistance-whereby cells stop responding to insulin, a condition preceding full diabetes-also improved significantly. Three people no longer met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. Participants said they slept better, had more energy, felt less pain and had fewer food cravings while on the programme.

Journal references:

Regular Tai Chi Chuan exercise improves T cell helper function of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus with an increase in T-bet transcription factor and IL-12 production Online First Br J Sports Med 2008; doi 10.1136/bjsm.2007.043562

Preliminary study of the effect of Tai Chi and Qigong medical exercise on indicators of metabolic syndrome and glycaemic control in adults with raised blood glucose levels Online First Br J Sports Med 2008; doi 10.1136/bjsm.2007.045476

Adapted from materials provided by British Medical Journal

Heart attack recovery

British scientists reported that Tai Chi exercises could help heart-attack victims recover faster. Researchers at Sheffield University concluded that practicing the slow, deliberate Tai Chi movements and breathing patterns lowered blood pressure and, in some cases, slowed the heart rate, They tested 126 heart-attack patients, having them practice Tai Chi, go through aerobic exercises to temporarily raise heart rate and breathing, or perform no additional exercise. The British Medical Association’s Postgraduate Medical Journal, which published the study, said in a statement. "Both forms of exercise reduced blood pressure, but only Tai Chi showed a significant reduction." The researchers said exercise was very important in helping heart-attack patients to recover but not all felt strong enough to do much. The gentle, graceful movements of Tai Chi, which stress balance and coordination, fit the needs of those weakened by heart attacks.

Researchers at Tufts-New England Medical Center and McGill University reviewed the data of over 50 studies on Tai Chi over the last 20 years. About a third of the studies examined Tai Chi’s effects on cardiovascular and respiratory function among various groups of people, including the elderly and those who had undergone coronary artery bypass surgery. Nearly all of the studies found that Tai chi associated with improved cardio-respiratory function.

Strengthening the Immune System

Dr. Wen Zee, a retired cardiologist and Tai Chi practitioner from Shanghai, conducted a study that linked a stronger immune system to the practice of Tai Chi. He chose ten people with the average age of 70. The oldest was 93 and the youngest 56. All of the subjects had practiced Tai Chi for over 20 years. Four cc. of blood was taken before they began Tai Chi, after they finished and two hours later. The study revealed that the ‘average activating killer T-cells of the immune system were higher than in an average young person.’ In addition the amount of killer cells increased after practice and then returned to their normal level after two hours.


Osteoporosis is a disease where the bones begin to become thin and brittle due to a loss of calcium. It is a disease mainly suffered by older women but men are not exempt. 60,000 of the 300,000 people who break a hip every year die during the twelve months after their accidents, usually from complications of long-term confinement to bed. Of the 240,000 who survive the fracture, one in four will be confined to a nursing home.

To prevent bone loss Doctors and health professionals advise doing weight bearing exercises. One of the best indicators of the importance of weight bearing exercise grew out of the discovery that astronauts lose a small but significant level of bone density while being weightless in outer space. Other studies have shown that young men and women who exercise regularly generally develop stronger bones with higher bone density than those who lead sedentary lives.

After 35 years of age, men and women begin to lose bone density. Adequate nutrition and regular weight-bearing exercise can slow this age-related bone loss. Regular weight-bearing exercises have been shown to increase bone density in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Regular exercise means exercising at least 30 minutes three to four times per week. Long term commitment to regular exercise is important, as the benefits of exercise on the bone are quickly lost once the person stops exercising.

What is a weight-bearing exercise? Any exercise where you use your own weight against the pull of gravity. For example, swimming or bicycle riding are not weight-bearing exercises. Tai Chi is one of the best weight-bearing exercises because it emphasizes the sinking of weight into the legs with any jarring or sharp impact on the joints and muscles. It strengthens and builds the bones and muscles while protecting against injuries such as sprains and torn ligaments.

Moreover, Tai Chi as a supreme weight-bearing exercise also strengthens the immune system. The sinking of the weight directly into the legs and the shifting of the weight from one leg to the other compresses the leg muscles, which in turn drives the immune system’s circulatory fluids throughout the body. When we build bone density, we are simultaneously strengthening our bone marrow, which is the source of the immune system’s blood cells.

Parkinson's Disease

Recent studies demonstrate that Tai Chi can increase strength, add flexibility and improve the balance of Parkinson’s patients. In a research project, Lyvonne Carreiro, a Parkinson's disease care coordinator at the University of Florida in Jacksonville, found that Tai Chi reduced the number of falls in Parkinson's patients. Her team studied 30 patients with Parkinson's disease. The patients were randomly assigned to a Tai Chi group or a 'control' group. The people who evaluated their records of falls and stability scores did not know to which group the patients belonged.

Carreiro’s study found that Tai Chi patients were less likely than control group to have an increase in the severity of their Parkinson's disease and less likely to have a decline in motor function. The reduction in falls was 18 times greater for the Tai Chi patients. This conclusion is all the more astonishing because the Tai Chi group had only one-hour weekly Tai Chi classes for 12 consecutive weeks. Carreiro also recommended that the Tai Chi instructor should be familiar with Parkinson's disease and be willing accommodate for each person's unique physical and mental needs.

Dementia and Physical Activity

Two recent studies highlight the importance of walking and physical exercise to reduce the likelihood of dementia and cognitive impairment in older adults. Dr. Robert Abbott of the University of Virginia School of Medicine examined 2,250 physically capable men from the ages of 71 to 93 for a period of three to five years. He found that men who walked only 400 meters a day experienced greater risk of dementia compared with those who walked more than five kilometers.

In another study Dr. Jennifer Weuve of the Harvard School of Public Health headed a survey that correlated physical activity and the general cognitive abilities of over 18,000 women aged 70 to 81. The study found that women who participated in higher levels of physical activity scored better on cognitive performance tests. The testers concluded that the cognitive benefits of greater physical activity was similar to being three years younger and with a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment.


The following study on osteoarthritis was taken from Dr. Paul Lam’s website at http://www.taichiforarthritis.com:


Effects of tai chi exercise on pain, balance, muscle strength, and physical functioning in older women with osteoarthritis: A randomized clinical trial


Rhayun Song, Eun-Ok Lee, Paul Lam, Sang-Cheol Bae


Twelve forms of Sun-style tai chi exercise have been developed specifically to reduce the pain and stiffness, and improve quality of life for people with arthritis. This randomized study examined the changes in pain, stiffness and physical functions (ability to do daily tasks) in older women with osteoarthritis (OA) at the completion of a 12-week tai chi exercise program.


72 patients with OA were randomly assigned into 2 groups. 22 experimental subjects and 21 controls completed pre- and post-test measures over a 12-week interval. Outcome measurements were physical symptoms and fitness, body mass index, cardiovascular functioning, and perceived difficulties in physical functioning. The independent test was used to examine group differences.


Compared to the control group the tai chi group had 35% less pain, 29% less stiffness, 29% more ability to perform daily tasks (like climbing stairs), as well as improved abdominal muscles and better balance. No significant group differences were found in flexibility and upper-body or knee muscle strength in the post-test scores


Older women with OA were able to safely perform the 12 forms of Sun-style tai chi exercise for 12 weeks, and this was effective in improving their symptoms, balance, and physical functioning

For more information on Tai Chi research, try this website: http://www.krapu4.com/taichi/.

You can find appropriate research regarding Tai Chi and your condition on the internet by typing taichi-heart, for example. In this case you will find an article on Tai Chi helping heart attack victims.

Ref: http://www.taichifallsprevention.com/taichiwalking/taichiresearch.shtml