Tai Chi May Ease Burden of Chronic Diseases
March 8, 2004 -- Practicing the traditional Chinese martial art
of tai chi appears to offer both mental and physical benefits for people with
chronic diseases, but researchers aren't exactly sure what those benefits
A new review of studies on tai chi shows that the practice is
safe and probably beneficial for older adults with conditions such as heart
failure, high blood pressure, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. It may also
offer psychological benefits in reducing stress and anxiety in healthy
But researchers say the lack of rigorous scientific studies on
the subject makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the long-term
risks or health benefits of practicing tai chi.
Tai chi combines deep breathing and relaxation with postures
that move smoothly from one to the other in slow, gentle movements.
Researchers say it has been promoted for good health, memory
concentration, digestion, balance and flexibility. It is also thought to
improve mental problems such as anxiety, depression, and age-related declines
in mental function.
"However, despite its popularity, the biological mechanism
and clinical effects of tai chi are not well understood, write researcher
Chenchen Wang, MD, MSc, of Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, and
Health Benefits of Tai Chi Unclear
For the study, published in the March 8 issue of the
Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed 47 English- and
Chinese-language studies on the effects of tai chi in people with chronic
These studies reported health benefits including improvements
in balance and strength, cardiovascular and respiratory function, flexibility,
immune function, and symptoms of arthritis. Psychological benefits in reducing
stress and anxiety were also reported.
But only nine of the studies reviewed were randomized and
controlled, which is the highest standard for scientific research, and all of
them were short-term.
"Therefore, the long-term effects of tai chi practice are
still unknown, and there is insufficient information to recommend Tai Chi to
patients with chronic conditions," conclude the researchers.