Tai Chi program helps Parkinson's disease patients

February 8, 2012

An Oregon Research Institute (ORI) exercise study conducted in four Oregon cities has shown significant benefits for patients with mild-to-moderate Parkinson's disease. In an original article published in the February 9, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), ORI scientist Fuzhong Li, Ph.D. and colleagues report that a tailored program of twice-weekly Tai Chi training resulted in improved postural stability and walking ability, and reduced falls in the participants.

"These results are clinically significant because they suggest that Tai Chi, a low-to-moderate impact exercise, may be used, as an add-on to current physical therapies, to address some of the key clinical problems in , such as postural and gait instability. Since many training features in the program are functionally oriented, the improvements in the balance and gait measures that we demonstrated highlight the potential of Tai Chi-based movements in rehabilitating with these types of problems and, consequently, easing cardinal symptoms of Parkinson's disease and improving mobility, flexibility, balance, and range of motion," noted Dr. Li.

In the 4-year project funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the investigators randomly assigned 195 patients to one of three exercise groups: Tai Chi, , or stretching. The patients participated in 60-minute exercise sessions twice weekly for 24 weeks.

The results of the study showed that the Tai Chi group performed consistently better than the stretching group in how far they could lean in any direction without losing balance as well as demonstrating better levels of directional control of the body and walking ability (i.e., longer stride length). Tai Chi participants also outperformed those in the resistance training group on the balance and stride length measures. Finally, Tai Chi training was shown to significantly lower the incidence of falls compared to stretching and to be as equally effective as resistance training in reducing falls.

Impaired movement, especially the loss of ability to maintain standing balance, adversely affects function and quality of life in patients with Parkinson's disease. With progression of the disease, patients lose stability and have trouble walking, difficulty managing activities of daily living, and experience frequent falls. Exercise is an important part of the management of Parkinson's disease because physical activity has been shown to retard the deterioration of motor function and to prolong functional independence. However, research on alternative forms of exercise, such as Tai Chi, that could improve balance, gait, and function in patients with Parkinson's disease is scarce.

The Tai Chi program developed by Dr. Li consisted of six Tai Chi 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. Natural breathing was integrated into the training routine.

"There are a number of practical advantages to using Tai Chi to improve motor dysfunction of Parkinson's disease - 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. It can also be incorporated into a rehabilitation setting as part of existing treatment. Similarly, because of its simplicity, certain aspects of this Tai Chi program can also be prescribed to patients as a self-care/home activity," Dr. Li added.

Explore further: Tai chi may improve quality of life in chronic heart failure patients

Related Stories

Tai chi may improve quality of life in chronic heart failure patients

April 25, 2011
Tai chi, the ancient Chinese meditative exercise, may improve quality of life, mood and exercise self-efficacy in chronic heart failure patients, according to research led by a team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Tai chi could be key to overcoming cognitive effects of chemotherapy

June 6, 2011
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 11.4 million Americans are currently living with cancer. While cancer treatments are plentiful, many have negative side effects. Previous studies have indicated that a significant ...

Tai chi helps prevent falls and improve mental health in the elderly

May 16, 2011
Tai chi has particular health benefits for older people, including helping to prevent falls and improving mental wellbeing, reveals a review published ahead of print in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Recommended for you

To reduce postoperative pain, consider sleep—and caffeine

August 18, 2017
Sleep is essential for good mental and physical health, and chronic insufficient sleep increases the risk for several chronic health problems.

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.