Tai Chi May Improve Balance and Quality of Life
Lori J. Batcheller
Brain and Life Magazine, April/May 2019
(Photo: Seán O'Neill)
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that incorporates breathing, visualization, and specific movements called forms. Some experts say it may be an effective therapeutic tool for people with neurologic disorders.
Several studies have found that tai chi can help with balance, reduce the incidence of falls, and enhance quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and stroke. For example, a 2018 review published in the Journal of Rehabilitative Medicine said that tai chi may improve walking in the short term among stroke survivors. And a 2017 analysis published in Parkinsonism and Related Disorders noted a potential benefit of tai chi for improving mobility, depression, and quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease.
Experts agree that additional, more rigorous studies of tai chi are warranted, with larger sample sizes and more standardized protocols regarding length of treatment, style of tai chi, and longer-term follow-up periods.
Tai chi's emphasis on rhythmic weight-shifting, symmetrical foot-stepping, controlled movements, and coordinated breathing can improve function and lower stress and anxiety levels, says Peter A. Harmer, PhD, MPH, professor of exercise and health science at Willamette University in Salem, OR, who has studied the effects of tai chi on reducing the incidence of falls in older people.
The martial art's focus on meditation, relaxing, and breathing could decrease anxiety and depression, says Danny Bega, MD, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Practicing tai chi also may help patients feel more in control of their disorder and improve their overall quality of life, says Dr. Bega, who recommends combining it with a comprehensive treatment program.
Before starting any exercise program, discuss it with your primary care physician or neurologist, Dr. Bega advises. Be sure you understand your abilities and moderate your practice accordingly, he adds. For example, you can do tai chi in a chair or using a chair for support or standing independently—all would help improve your functional ability, Dr. Harmer says.
LinLin Choy, a tai chi instructor who trains teachers at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene and other locations around the country, [says] … "Alternating between motion and stillness is especially useful for helping people with neurologic disorders move voluntarily."
Find a Tai Chi Class Near You
Tai chi is best learned in a class where the nuances of breathing and mindful movement are taught. Classes may be offered at community centers, senior centers, health clubs, gyms, and tai chi or martial arts studios.
To find classes for people with multiple sclerosis (MS), contact the local National MS Society chapter; for people with Parkinson's, contact your local American Parkinson Disease Association.
For a free simple qigong video: https://www.taichifoundation.org/free-qi-gong-video