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The Health Benefits of Tai Chi Chuan

Tai chi (also T’ai chi ch’uan) is a slowly moving, low impact exercise that can be envisioned as meditation in motion.
Tai chi chuan is literally translated as the “Supreme Ultimate Fist”. It is an internal Chinese martial art that is mostly practised for its health benefits in the Western world.

The possible health benefits of tai chi exercise:

The possible health benefits of tai chi exercise for specific medical conditions:

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Tai Chi and shingles immunity

Question :
Can tai chi exercise give your immune system a boost?

Answer :
In this study, tai chi exercise increased an immunological marker for shingles immunity by nearly 50%.

Summary :
The varicella-zoster virus causes chicken pox and shingles (herpes zoster). The virus remains dormant in the nervous system after a chickenpox infection and can be reactivated years latter as shingles. Shingles is a painful rash with blisters on the skin. Post herpectic neuralgia is a complication of shingles.

36 health adults over 60 years of age were randomly allocated either to the tai chi group or to a waiting-list control group. Tai Chi Chih (a set of 19 movements and 1 pose) was performed for 45 minutes, 3 times a week, for 15 weeks. Immunity to the varicella-zoster virus (VZV-responder cell frequency) was measured at the start of the study and after 16 weeks.

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Tai chi chuan exercise for fibromyalgia

Question :
Can Tai Chi Chuan exercise improve fibromyalgia symptoms and quality of life?

Research Articles :
A randomized trial of tai chi for fibromyalgia.
In this single-blind, randomized trial, 66 patients were randomly assigned to classic Yang-style tai chi or to wellness education and stretching exercises. Tai chi was performed for 60 minutes, twice a week for 12 weeks.
There were clinically important improvements in the tai chi group as measured by the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ), this was the primary outcome measure of this study. Improvement was also seen in physical-component scores and mental-component scores.

A comprehensive review of 46 exercise treatment studies in fibromyalgia (1988-2005).
A review of 46 exercise treatment studies for fibromyalgia (Tai chi exercise is not mentioned). Aerobic exercise was the best treatment for fitness and symptom improvement. The greatest effect and lowest attrition was seen in lower intensity exercise programs.

Effects of T’ai Chi exercise on fibromyalgia symptoms and health-related quality of life.
A pilot study on 39 fibromyalgia patients. Tai chi was performed for 60 minutes, twice a week for 6 weeks. Twenty-one patients completed at least 10 of the 12 exercise sessions. Improvement was seen in quality of life and symptoms.

Answer :
Tai chi exercise can improve fibromyalgia symptoms and quality of life.
A low-impact and low aerobic intensity exercise such as tai chi could have lower attrition rates and greater benefits.
For some patients, starting with 60 minutes of tai chi exercise twice a week may be too demanding.

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Electromyography in Tai Chi

Question :
How does a Tai Chi master move and use his muscles?

Answer :
The hip, knee and ankle joints are bent to maintain an upright posture and a low center of gravity. The anti-gravity muscles (rectus femoris and the medial head of gastrocnemius) are strengthened by eccentric muscle contraction.

Summary :
Electromyographic activities of the lumbar erector spinae, rectus femoris, medial hamstrings, and medial head of gastrocnemius were measured as a Tai Chi master performed a sequence of basic Tai Chi movements.

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Tai Chi and vestibular rehabilitation

Question :
Can Tai Chi be used for vestibular rehabilitation to remedy balance impairment caused by damage to the peripheral vestibular system?

Answer :
Tai Chi improves lower extremity motor control which results in a more vigorous gait and better trunk control.

Summary :
36 older adults (average age of 56.9 years) with vestibulopathy were randomized to either Tai Chi exercise or vestibular rehabilitation. Tai Chi was performed for 70 minutes (including 20 minutes of warm-up exercises), once per week, for 10 weeks. Five Tai Chi movements from Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Yang-style short form were taught in this study.

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Tai Chi and ankylosing spondylitis

Question :
Can tai chi exercise improve disease activity, flexibility and depression in patients with ankylosing spondylitis?

Answer :
Tai Chi improved disease activity and flexibility in patients with ankylosing spondylitis but there was a high drop rate with only 13 patiens in the treatment group.

Summary :
Forty patients were allocated to either a Tai Chi treatment group or to a no-treatment control group. Tai Chi was performed for 60 minutes, twice a week, for 8 weeks and followed by 8 weeks of home practice. This study used the 21 Tai Chi movements based on Tai Chi for Rheumatoid Arthritis (developed by Australian family physician Dr. Paul Lam). Thirteen out of twenty patients in the Tai Chi group completed the study (a 35% dropout rate). The Tai Chi treatment group was composed of 10 men and 3 women with an average age of 35.2 years. The Bath Ankylosing Spondylitis Disease Activity Index and the Finger to Floor Distance was improved after 16 weeks in the Tai Chi group. The improvement in depression scores was not statistically significant.

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Tai Chi for tension headaches

Question :
Can Tai Chi improve quality of life measure and reduce tension headaches?

Answer :
Tai Chi improved health-related quality-of-life (HRQOL) scores and reduced headache impact after 15 weeks. There was a high dropout rate in the Tai Chi group.

Summary :
47 participants were randomly assigned to either a program of Tai Chi instruction or a wait-list control group.
The classical Yang style of Tai Chi with 24 movements was taught for an hour, twice a week, for 15 weeks. There were 8 dropouts in the intervention group. The average age of the 13 subjects in the Tai Chi group was 47 years.

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Tai Chi in rheumatoid arthritis

Question :
Can eight weeks of Tai Chi help patients with rheumatoid arthritis?

Answer :
Not according to this pilot study but most preferred Tai Chi compared to physiotherapy.

Summary :
Fifteen women with rheumatoid arthritis aged 40 to 70 years participated in an eight week Tai Chi exercise program (adapted Sun style for patients with arthritis) twice a week for 45 minutes. There was no change in muscle strength, flexibility, balance, cardiovascular fitness and measures of disease activity at 4 weeks and 8 weeks compared to baseline. Thirteen women preferred Tai Chi compared to physiotherapy.
The authors noted that a major limitation of this study was the small number of subjects and the short follow up period of 8 weeks.

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Tai Chi improves balance, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness in older adults

Question :
Can Tai Chi improve balance control, flexibility and cardiorespiratory fitness?

Answer :
Compared to a sedentary group, the Tai Chi group had better scores for resting heart rate, 3 minute step test heart rate, balance (right and left leg standing with eyes closed) and flexibility.

Summary :
This study recruited 28 males over 65 years old who had been practicing the Yang Style of Tai Chi for at least 10 years.

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Tai Chi and falls in the elderly

Question :
Can tai chi practice prevent falls in the elderly over a 12 month period?

Answer :
After 12 months, the risk of falls was not lower in the Tai Chi group.

Summary :
A randomized clinical trial where 269 elderly people were allocated to either Tai Chi training or to a control group receiving usual care. Tai Chi was performed for 1 hour, twice a week, for 13 weeks. The subjects where living at home and had an average age was 77.

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