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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 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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Tai Chi and sleep quality

Question :
Can tai chi improve the quality of sleep?

Answer :
Improvement was seen in the sleep parameters of sleep quality, habitual sleep efficiency, sleep duration and sleep disturbance.

Summary :
112 healthy adult volunteers were randomly allocated to either Tai Chi Chih or to health education. Participants were 59 to 86 years old. Tai Chi was practiced for 40 minutes, 3 times a weeks, for 16 weeks.  Tai Chi Chih is a set of 19 movements and 1 pose.
Sleep quality was assessed after 25 weeks. Sleep quality was measured by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI).

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Tai Chi versus brisk walking

Question :
How does Tai Chi compare to a brisk walk for women aged 65 years or older?

Answer :
Tai Chi improved fitness in elderly women over a three month period. Tai Chi was better than brisk walking in improving lower extremity strength, balance and flexibility.

Summary :
Twenty-six sedentary healthy women aged 65 years or older were randomized to Tai Chi or to a brisk walking group. An additional 8 women were assigned to a sedentary comparison group.
A modified 10-movement Yang style of Tai Chi was taught. Tai Chi was performed for about 1 hour, 3 times per week, for 12 weeks. The walking group aimed to reach 50–70% of the calculated target heart rate (220 – age).

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Physiological effects of Tai Chi

Question :
What are the physiological effects of tai chi, including its effect on aerobic exercise capacity?

Answer :
Tai Chi can be classified as a moderate intensity exercise with a maximal oxygen intake (VO2 max) of 55%.

Summary :
A review of 31 studies with a total of 2216 men and women.
The authors conclude that Tai Chi is beneficial to cardiorespiratory function, immune capacity, mental control, flexibility, balance control, muscle strength and reduces the risk of falls in the elderly.

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Tai Chi for balance reduces the fear of falling

Question :
Can Tai Chi Chuan improve balance?

Answer :
This study showed that Tai Chi can reduce the fear of falling.

Summary :
Seventy-two inactive, older subjects were randomly assigned to a computerized balance training group, a Tai Chi group, or an educational control group. Tai Chi consisting of 10 forms was performed for 1 hour, 2 times per week, for 15 weeks. Tai Chi reduced the fear of falling but did not improve balance compared to the computerized balance training group.
The Tai Chi intervention may not have been of sufficient duration. Also, the computerized balance training group was trained on the same apparatus with which all subjects in the study were tested; so familiarity could have improved the results in the computerized balance training group.

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Tai Chi for osteoarthritis

Question :
Can Tai Chi exercise improve symptoms and physical function in osteoarthritis?

Answer :
Tai Chi may be effective for pain control in knee osteoarthritis. Randomized clinical trials showed mixed results for improvement of physical function and for pain reduction at multiple sites.

Summary :
This review included 5 randomized clinical trials (RCT) and 7 non-randomized controlled clinical trials. In 2 of the RCTs there was significant pain reduction in knee osteoarthritis. In 2 of the RCTs there was improvement of physical function and in the activities of daily living.

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