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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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Single Whip in Tai Chi Chuan

Single Whip in Tai Chi Chuan

Single Whip in Tai Chi Chuan

The Single Whip is a posture found in many forms of Tai Chi Chuan. (See Wikipedia). The stance and position of the arms will vary in the different forms of Tai Chi. There are also martial arts applications for fighting and self defense.

Some example videos:

Tai Chi Movements : Single Whip Tai Chi Movement

Single Whip of Yang Style

Tai Chi Fighting Applications – Single Whip

In the 108 movement Taoist Tai Chi form, the Single Whip is referred to as Whip to One Side. In this form of Tai Chi Chuan, the shoulders and hips face forward while the left arm is raised to the side (in abduction)  horizontally.

Tai Chi and Osteoporosis

Question :
Can Tai Chi as an exercise prevent osteoporosis compared to high impact exercise?

Answer :
Tai Chi is superior compared to a sedentary lifestyle but it is not the most effective exercise to prevent osteoporosis.

Summary :
1. This is a review article that included 5 randomized clinical trials and 2 controlled clinical trials.
Although one randomized clinical trial found Tai Chi superior for the loss of bone mineral density compared to a sedentary lifestyle, the meta-analysis showed that Tai Chi did not have a significant effect on bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.

2. There is an inverse relationship between physical activity and the risk of hip fracture. Exercises such as Tai Chi may be less effective in the prevention of osteoporotic fractures.

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Tai Chi and blood pressure

Question :
Can Tai Chi exercise lower blood pressure?

Answer :
Yes. Most studies showed a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Summary :
This review included 9 randomized controlled trials, 13 nonrandomized studies and 4 observational studies. Studies that only looked at the short term effects of exercise were excluded. Blood pressure reduction with Tai Chi was seen in 22 studies. Systolic blood pressure was reduced from 3-32 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure was reduced from 2-18 mm Hg.

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Tai Chi and balance in men with osteoporosis

Question :
Can Tai Chi improve balance?

Answer :
Tai Chi improved balance as measured by a Computer Posturographic System.

Summary :
A randomized controlled trial where 25 men over the age of 60 with osteopenia or osteoporosis were randomly assigned to a Tai Chi exercise group. Tai Chi was performed for 45 minutes, twice a week, for 18 weeks.

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Tai Chi for Parkinson’s disease

Question :
Is Tai Chi effective in people with Parkinson’s disease? It is a movement disorder characterized by muscle rigidity, slow physical movement (bradykinesia), impaired balance, and tremor.

Answer :
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that Tai Chi is effective in Parkinson’s disease. One randomized controlled trial showed that Tai Chi may help in the prevention of falls.

Summary :
Seven studies were included in this review, three were randomized controlled trials (RCT).
In one RCT, Tai Chi was superior to conventional exercise for improving the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) and for the prevention of falls. Another RCT comparing Tai Chi to Qigong, found no effect on locomotor ability. (Is Qigong a placebo?). The third RCT comparing Tai Chi to a wait list control, showed no effect on the UPDRS.

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Tai Chi exercise and ankle plantar flexion strength

Question :
Does tai chi exercise improve muscular strength?

Answer :
12 weeks of tai chi training improved ankle plantar flexion strength by close to 20%.

Summary :
Plantar flexion is the downward movement at the ankle joint as in pressing down on an automobile gas pedal.
In this study, Yang style tai chi was performed 1 hour per session, 3 times per week, for 12 weeks. There were twenty subjects, 14 in the training group and 6 in the control group.  Maximal isometric plantarflexion muscle strength was measured at the soleus muscle.

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Tai Chi and aerobic capacity

Question :
Is the intensity of Tai Chi exercise sufficient to increase aerobic capacity?

Answer :
Tai Chi may increase aerobic capacity in subjects who were initially sedentary. However, randomized clinical trials have not shown that Tai Chi is an effective way to increase aerobic capacity.

Summaries:
1. This is a review of 170 citations.
Tai Chi improved aerobic capacity mostly in middle-aged adults (over 55 years old) who were initially sedentary and when it was practiced long term.
2. This review included 5 randomized clinical trials.
Three studies compared Tai Chi with sedentary controls and two studies compared Tai Chi with varying intensities of aerobic exercise. Tai Chi did not increase maximal oxygen consumption in these studies.

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Tai Chi for chronic musculoskeletal pain

Question :
Does Tai Chi help patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions such as arthritis? Can Tai Chi decrease pain and disability and improve quality of life and physical function?

Answer :
The authors conclude that Tai Chi has a small positive effect on pain and disability in people with arthritis. It also improved satisfaction with general health.

Summary :
This meta-analysis included seven randomized controlled trials with a total of 321 participants with musculoskeletal pain; six studies on patients with chronic arthritis and one study on patients with chronic tension headaches.
The studies were rated of low quality.

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Tai Chi after a myocardial infaction

Question :
Can Tai Chi reduce blood pressure after an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack)?

Answer :
Tai Chi reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Summary :
Following a myocardial infarction, 126 patients were randomly allocated to Tai Chi, aerobic exercise or a non-exercise support group. The patients were males with an average age 56 years. 38 patients practiced the Wu Chian-Ch’uan style of Tai Chi for 8 weeks (1 hour sessions, twice a week for 3 weeks and then weekly for 5 weeks).
The aerobic exercise group showed decreasing systolic blood pressure over the 11 sessions.
The Tai Chi group showed decreasing systolic and diastolic blood pressure over the 11 sessions.

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