Tai Chi: Widespread benefits for many ages and conditions
Tai Chi is a traditional form of mind/body practice that began in China, and has become popular around the world. There are several traditions of Tai Chi, but all of them have in common a set of movements originating in the martial arts. They are incorporated in Tai Chi as a more peaceful and meditative practice. It is a graceful form of exercise that gently increases blood flow and the movement of lymph through the body. Tai Chi is generally understood to be beneficial for a number of physical ailments such as osteoarthritis and other musculoskeletal problems and has been shown to improve balance, especially in aging individuals (1) as well as helping to control blood pressure (2).
One of the most intriguing uses of Tai Chi is for treating pain and other problems in patients with various disabilities—where it can be very effective. Until recently there have been no studies of this practice in the most severely affected among the disabled: those with spinal cord injury. However a recent rigorous small scale study of 26 participants enrolled in a 12 week seated Tai Chi course of weekly sessions demonstrated benefits in terms of pain, emotional well-being, sense of physical well-being and spiritual connection even among severely compromised patients with spinal cord injury. More study is required, but this initial study is very encouraging for what is generally an intractable condition (3). If Tai Chi can help the severely disabled, imagine what it might do for the more able-bodied.
While Tai Chi is often promoted for its benefits to the elderly, especially in fall prevention and in various degenerative conditions, it can benefit people of all ages. The largest systematic review of the health benefits of Tai Chi actually looked at many studies of its impact on a much younger population: students in higher education (4). The serious consequences of stress create special risks for students in higher education across the health spectrum–from psychological to physical issues. Because Tai Chi integrates physical exercise with mindfulness techniques, it can relieve stress and many other associated conditions.
The systematic review reported on research in both in the English and Chinese literature. It included randomized controlled trials and other survey types of studies. A total of 76 studies were compiled, analyzed and ranked in terms of evidence. This yielded a huge combined study sample of 9,263 participants. A total of 81 health outcomes were extracted and ranked. Four primary and eight secondary outcomes were found. The primary outcomes among this younger group showed that Tai Chi is very likely to increase flexibility, reduce symptoms of depression, decrease anxiety, and improve interpersonal sensitivity. Secondary outcomes included improved lung capacity, balance, cardiovascular exercise abilities, quality of sleep, symptoms of compulsion, somatization, phobias, and decreased hostility. In other words, Tai Chi made rather highly stressed younger people happier, more connected and less fearful–along with providing some solid exercise benefits. Such outcomes form the essence of what makes for good overall health.
(1) Rogers, C. (2016) “Tai Chi to Promote Balance Training” Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics (36) 1: 229-249 https://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/9375
(2) Pan, X; Yi, Z; Tao S. (2015) Effects of Tai Chi exercise on blood pressure and plasma levels of nitric oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide in real-world patients with essential hypertension. Critical and Experimental Hypertension (37) 1:8-14 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/10641963.2014.881838
(3) Kazuko, S; Kartaslk, D; Carufel, P; Kao M-C; Zheng, P. (2016) “Seated Tai Chi to alleviate pain and improve quality of life in individuals with spinal cord disorder” The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine (39) 3: 353-358. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/10641963.2014.881838
(4) Webster, CS; Luo, AY; Krägeloh, C; Moir, F; Henning, M. (2016) “A systematic review of the health benefits of Tai Chi for students in higher education” Preventive Medicine Reports (3): 103-112. https://aut.researchgateway.ac.nz/handle/10292/9375