Friday, February 11, 2011

Health Benefits of Tai Chi

This is one of occasional blogs that I plan to write on the health benefits of tai chi. I recently read an article by researchers at Tufts University about how tai chi has been shown to be effective in treating knee osteoarthritis.

One of the authors of this article was Ramel Rones. He is with Mind-Body Therapies, Boston, MA. He has many years of experience with tai chi, martial arts, and medical qigong. He taught a simplified Yang tai chi form used in this study.

The patients were placed in either a tai chi class that met for 1 hour twice a week or another class of wellness education and stretching for a comparable time. The tai chi class consisted of 10 minutes of self massage, 30 minutes of tai chi, 10 minutes of breathing exercises (presumably qigong), and 10 minutes of relaxation (presumably meditation).

After 12 weeks, the patients showed statistically significant improvements in measures of pain, physical movement, and quality of life. After the evaluation at 12 weeks, the patients were encouraged to continue practicing on their own at home.

Additional follow-ups were made at 24 and 48 weeks. After 48 weeks, less than half the patients were still practicing tai chi on their own. The group average pain score worsened after people stopped practicing tai chi. Improvements in self-efficacy and depression continued for the entire 48 weeks.

The authors conclusion about the improvement was that “… synergy between the physical and mental roles likely plays a role. First, tai chi may enhance cardiovascular benefits, muscular strength, balance, coordination, and physical function. All of these are thought to be able to reduce joint pain. Stronger muscles and better coordination improve the stability of the joints and reduce pain. Second, the mind-body component is thought to influence immune, endocrine, neurochemical, and autonomic functioning. Third, controlled breathing and movements promote a restful state and mental tranquility.”

My conclusions: Tai chi has proven health benefits, but the benefits continue only if you continue to practice. It is not a magic pill that can be taken one time to cure illness.

Tai Chi is effective in treating knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled trial
Arthritis & Rheumatism (Arthritis Care and Research)
Vol. 61, No. 11, November 15, 2009, pp 1545 – 1553
Chenchen Wang, Christopher H. Schmid, Patricia L. Hibberd, Robert Kalish, Ronenn Roubenoff, Ramel Rones, Timothy McAlindon

© 2011 Eric Borreson