Tai Chi Has Alternative Health Benefits for Those with Chronic Diseases

Newly published research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (2015), conducted by Dr. Yi-Wen Chen and colleagues at the Department of Physical Therapy, University of British Columbia, Canada, found that tai chi can be beneficial to people suffering with chronic illnesses.

The study suggests that this thirteenth-century Chinese martial art has positive health benefits for “individuals with four common chronic conditions—cancer, osteoarthritis (OA), heart failure (HF) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).”

The research was comprised of 21 articles involving almost 1,600 participants, all between 50 and 70 years of age. Researchers examined the health benefits for participants involved in one-hour tai chi sessions, two to three times per week, for 12 weeks. The study found, “The results demonstrated a favourable effect or tendency of Tai Chi to improve physical performance and showed that this type of exercise could be performed by individuals with different chronic conditions, including COPD, HF and OA.”

You may recall seeing tai chi in some of Hollywood’s most famous films. One that comes to mind is the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, where Martin Sheen performs tai chi movements that ebb and flow to the iconic music of The Doors. This movie version may not be the best representation of tai chi, but many GIs returning from Vietnam brought back to the United States a small piece of Eastern culture in the form of tai chi. It is an ancient activity that is still in use today.

In recent decades, tai chi has become more commonly practiced in the West. It is often used as a complementary therapy for heart disease and cancer. It is also seen as an exceptional treatment for those with arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and can develop due to weight gain, joint injury, or as a natural result of aging, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The Arthritis Foundation notes that weight management, physical activity, medication and surgery are the most common ways to treat osteoarthritis. Medication and surgery may be recommended, but are not always necessary. Physical activity and weight management can significantly improve overall physical and mental well-being with regards to osteoarthritis.

Tai chi is an excellent, low-to-moderate exercise that almost anyone can perform. It is especially suitable for those with limited mobility. Tai chi is easy on muscles and joints, and also relieves stress and anxiety. Multiple studies have shown that tai chi is useful in the treatment of various diseases, and can improve the quality of life for people who once thought they would never be able to exercise or feel normal again.

A 2004 study published in Supportive Care in Cancer, involved 21 women who had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. The women were assigned to either 12 weeks of tai chi chuan (TCC) or 12 weeks of psychosocial support (PST). The study analyzed the women for improvements in health-related quality of life (HRQL) and self-esteem. The results found, “The TCC group exhibited improvements in HRQL and self-esteem from baseline to 6 and 12 weeks, while the support group exhibited declines.” Interestingly, participants in the PST group, who did not perform tai chi, showed declines in self-esteem.

Tai chi chuan.Tai chi can allow you, or someone you know suffering from a chronic illness, to feel the joy of life once again. This ancient art has remained relatively unchanged through the centuries and is still widely used as an alternative treatment for almost all diseases in Eastern and Western medicine.

The findings of recent research serve to solidify the role of tai chi in Western medicine. Whether you are ill or completely healthy, tai chi can be effective in improving and maintaining overall health. This thirteenth century martial art is a useful tool for your physical and mental well-being. 

What do you think about tai chi or any Eastern medicine? Are you ready to try tai chi?

-Stephen Seifert

Stephen Seifert is a writer, professor, adventurer and a health & fitness guru. His flare for travel and outdoor adventure allows him to enjoy culture and traditions different than his own. A healthy diet, routine fitness and constant mental development is the cornerstone to Stephen’s life. 



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