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Tai Chi May Help Improve Balance in Patients with Parkinsons Disease

Tai Chi may help improve many aspects of health

Tai Chi is a low-to-moderate impact exercise that is showing promise as an add-on to current physical therapies for conditions such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. A new study finds that patients with Parkinson’s disease may also benefit from the ancient form of Chinese martial arts as it may help to improve balance and movement control.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease have substantially impaired balance which leads to diminished functional ability and an increased risk of falling. Gentle exercise is often recommended to help improve these functions. Dr. Fuzhong Li of the Oregon Research Institute notes that Tai Chi may also help with improving flexibility and range of motion.

Dr. Li enrolled patients with Parkinson’s disease (age 40 to 85) in a twice-a-week one-hour-long Tai Chi training session that consisted of six martial art movements integrated into an eight-form routine that focused on weight-shifting, controlled displacement of the center of gravity over the base of support, ankle sway, and front-to-back and sideways stepping. The sessions lasted for six months.

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Patient’s practicing tai chi were found to have improvements in steadiness that was 2.5 times greater than those who were enrolled in resistance training classes – steps and lunges performed with ankle weights and a weighted vest. The patients showed four times better balance than those who only did stretching exercises.

"There are a number of practical advantages to using Tai Chi to improve motor dysfunction of Parkinson's disease,” said Dr. Li. “It is a low cost activity that does not require equipment, it can be done anywhere, at any time, and the movements can be easily learned.” He notes the exercises can be incorporated into an in-patient rehabilitation program or prescribed to patients as a self-care/home activity for outpatient rehab.

Other benefits to Tai Chi include a possible improvement to mental health.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects one in 100 people over the age of 60. Estimates of the total number of people with the disease vary, says the Michael J. Fox Foundation, but at least one million people in the United States have Parkinson’s.

Journal Reference:
Tai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinson's Disease
Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., Peter Harmer, Ph.D., M.P.H., Kathleen Fitzgerald, M.D., Elizabeth Eckstrom, M.D., M.P.H., Ronald Stock, M.D., Johnny Galver, P.T., Gianni Maddalozzo, Ph.D., and Sara S. Batya, M.D.
N Engl J Med 2012; 366:511-519February 9, 2012