Saturday, August 11, 2012

Health Benefits of Tai Chi


This is one of occasional articles I plan to write on the health benefits of tai chi. 

I recently read an article titled, A randomized controlled trial of Tai chi for balance, sleep quality and cognitive performance in elderly Vietnamese. The objective of this study was to " evaluate the effects of Tai chi exercise on balance, sleep quality, and cognitive performance in community-dwelling elderly in Vinh city, Vietnam". It was published in the journal, Clinical Interventions in Aging.

For this study, 96 healthy participants were divided into two groups. The study group was assigned 6 months of tai chi training. The control group was asked to maintain their normal routine.

Now comes the tricky part: understanding the results.

The authors say that the results of the study indicate that the tai chi group improved scores on falls prevention, sleep quality, and the trail making test, a test of motor speed and visual attention, compared to the control group.

Let's look a little closer.

Every study has a control group that they compare with the test group. We need to understand what the control group did. In this case, the control group did nothing. That's a red flag. In other words, the study shows that learning tai chi is better than doing nothing. We know that the controls were already suffering the debilitating results of aging and inactivity. This paper does not show that tai chi is better than other forms of exercise.

Here's why I say that.

This study suffers from many of the problems that some other tai chi studies do. The authors do not give an adequate description of the method of teaching or how much the participants practiced when they were not in class. The study was not clear, but it appears that they learned the Yang 24 form tai chi. It does not show that tai chi is better than weight lifting or aerobic exercise. It does not show that tai chi is better than having the participants go for a morning walk and randomly wave their hands in the air. It shows that getting up and moving is better than sitting around.

One really good thing that this study did show was that the majority of the study group stayed with the program for the entire 6 months. Only 19% of the people dropped out. This indicates that exercise in a group setting was fairly effective at improving health.

My conclusion.

This study was a waste of time and money. There are many high-quality studies that show the health benefits of tai chi. This is not one of them. Always read claims like this with a critical eye.

The entire study can be read at
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3396052/pdf/cia-7-185.pdf

© 2012 Eric Borreson